Olivier, Na­tional The­atre, South Bank, Lon­don SE1 (020-7452 3000). Un­til 11 Au­gust Run­ning time: 2hrs 30mins (in­clud­ing in­ter­val) Play­wright: Brian Friel Di­rec­tor: Ian Rick­son

The Week - - Arts | Drama -

Brian Friel’s “mas­terly” 1980 play, in which Bri­tish army engi­neers ar­rive to map 1830s Done­gal and to an­gli­cise Ir­ish place names, is a stonecold mod­ern clas­sic, said Michael Billing­ton in The Guardian. Here, in a flaw­less pro­duc­tion, it “seems to ex­pand to fill the vast space of the Olivier”: it’s one of the best things staged at the Na­tional in re­cent years. The set­ting is an Ir­ish-lan­guage ru­ral school, or hedge school, run by “learned old soak” Hugh, which is un­der threat from the in­tro­duc­tion of com­pul­sory English-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion, said Paul Tay­lor in The In­de­pen­dent. Ciarán Hinds plays Hugh with a “won­der­ful di­lap­i­dated grandeur”; Der­mot Crow­ley is “per­fec­tion” as the ec­cen­tric, Greek-read­ing old Jack; and Colin Morgan is su­perb as Hugh’s adult son, Owen, who works as an in­ter­preter for the Bri­tish sol­diers.

Rae Smith’s set de­sign is a “wild achieve­ment”, said Kate Kell­away in The Ob­server. There’s a huge sky upon which “smudged pink clouds spread like ru­mours and ac­tors come up over the ris­ing ground sil­hou­et­ted in fire”. The hedge school is edged with muddy turf and with “an arm­chair so old it looks as if it’s about to be sub­sumed back into na­ture”. The ef­fect is to lend the play a thrilling, mythic qual­ity. Some of this “mag­nif­i­cent” play’s del­i­ca­cies do seem to lose a lit­tle of their sub­tlety in the vast space of the Olivier, said Ian Shuttleworth in the FT. But it’s still a rich and re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

A high­light of this “riv­et­ing” pro­duc­tion, said Do­minic Maxwell in The Times, is the “ten­der yet hi­lar­i­ous love scene” be­tween Máire, a young woman who knows only a hand­ful of English words, and Ge­orge, the lieu­tenant whose Ir­ish ex­tends only to place names. Ju­dith Roddy and Adetomiwa Edun are out­stand­ing as they des­per­ately try to com­mu­ni­cate their feel­ings. Ian Rick­son di­rects with “im­mense sen­si­tiv­ity”, said Christo­pher Hart in The Sun­day Times. But the “real star” is Friel’s master­piece, full of “glo­ri­ous di­a­logue and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion” and an “in­ex­haustible the­matic rich­ness”.

Colin Morgan: su­perb

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