We take a look at what critics have had to say about this revival of Brian Friel’s Olivier Award-winning play, directed by Josie Rourke and starring Siobhán McSweeney (Derry Girls) and Ardal O’Hanlon (Father Ted).  

(c) Johan Persson

The Guardian: **** “Movement lies at the emotional heart of this play and it is orchestrated with such delicate mastery by Wayne McGregor that the stomping scene, featuring the sisters dancing with wild abandon is a shared hedonistic escape, rebellious ritual and act of worship in one.”

Time Out: **** “ultimately it feels like the little universe these five women have carved out matters, that it meant something to Michael and because of that it will always live on (and of course, it really has  – the play we are watching in 2023 is Friel’s own memory of 1936). It’s not bliss, but it is community, safety, sisterhood warmth, and dancing. A beautiful production of a beautiful play.”

Evening Standard: **** “Even if you missed all the subtext, this show would still delight in its acute depiction of family dynamics. The careworn exasperation of Mitchell’s Kate, knowing she has to be unpopular to keep things together; McSweeney’s bluff, fag-puffing Maggie defusing tensions; the way Oliver’s expressive Chris lights up when Gerry appears, to the mixed envy and despair of her siblings.”

All That Dazzles: **** “Dancing at Lughnasa is a show that might take its time to grab your interest, but when it does it will have you hooked. Utterly captivating and at times unconventional in its approach, its refreshingly different storytelling device, impressive set design and truly outstanding cast ensure this is an overall winning show which delicately balances the joy in life with the uncertainty and fragility of the future. Continuing the trend of fantastically put together shows, National Theatre are truly having a great harvest this season.”

The Arts Desk: **** “This production may throw different aspects of the play into bold relief – the emphasis here is very much on oldest sister Kate and less so on the heartsick, ever-knitting Agnes (Brid Brennan won her own Tony for that performance) – but the play’s sense of ectasy dampened down by circumstance, and worse, allows its putative intimacy to fill the reaches of the Olivier which, in fact, doesn’t seat that many more than did Lughnasa‘s original Broadway berth.”

The Upcoming: ***** “Siobhan McSweeney’s electrifying performance as Maggie carries this production, as she embodies the loudest and most outgoing Mundy sibling. She serves as the family’s diffuser of tension, cracking jokes and riddles while handling most of the household chores. Riley’s Chaplin-esque Gerry is delightfully foolish, yet layered with depth and subtle sadness as he repeatedly fails to fulfil his familial obligations and secure a successful career. O’Hanlon’s fragile and moving portrayal of Jack captures his slow return to lucidity, interspersed with poignant glimpses of his longed-for African life. Mitchell, as Kate, skilfully transitions between stern authority and tender hopefulness as her character desperately attempts to keep the family together.”

London Theatre.co.uk: ***** “In fact, Rourke exquisitely illustrates how every arrival or piece of news affects the tight-knit clan, like a stone making ripples in the water. She first establishes the routine of this distinctly female space, so that even as they argue, they continue chores like knitting, ironing and cooking, the actors weaving around one another in the cramped space as though performing a silent dance (the detailed movement comes courtesy of Wayne McGregor.) Then we see how that routine is upset by change.”

WhatsOnStage: ***** “The judgement of each performance makes this portrait of a family deeply affecting, but every aspect of the production honours a play that feels as fresh as the day it was written.”

The Stage: **** “Shimmering, beautifully acted revival of a modern Irish classic that probes the mysteries of life.”

Revstan.com: **** “Dancing at Lughnasa is slow to get going, but it gets under your skin, and you don’t realise it until long afterwards. It’s a play that is joyful and sad, charming and moving.”

Jonathan Baz Reviews: **** “At not far short of three hours there are times when one’s attention flags, but Josie Rourke directs with a sharp perception and played out on Robert Jones’ stunning set, the evening is an occasion of fine theatre.”

iNews: **** “We might grow a little restive occasionally when the action proceeds over-slowly, but the cumulative punch it packs at the end as we realise the delicate transience of what Friel has just shown us is remarkable.”

The Reviews Hub: ***** “The term ‘modern classic’ gets bandied around so often that it’s almost lost its meaning, but Dancing at Lughnasa definitely deserves the moniker.”

There Ought to be Clowns: “Wayne McGregor’s movement captures so much of what makes the heart of this production sing, the titular scene a joy of wild abandon, that with crushingly inevitability must lead to wrenching scenes of desperate poignancy. Gorgeously done.”

Culture Whisper: **** “Rourke’s production captures the feisty dynamics between the Mundys, and the sense the kitchen is the nucleus into which gossip from the outside world is filtered and dissected.”

Broadway World: *** “Ultimately one wonders what director, Josie Rourke, intended to make of the work in its second production at The National Theatre, having also played at The Old Vic in 2009 and around the world. Since 1990, the Church’s grip on Ireland has much diminished, the opportunities for women increased, people with disabilities demanding not protection but empowerment and we’ve all had a bitter taste of social isolation. If one can take the technical quality of a production on one of the world’s greatest stages as a minimum, one is left with a sense of “Meh” about much else.”

Dancing at Lughnasa continues to play at the National Theatre until the 27th May 2023.


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