Thursday 14 November 2019

Brian Friel: Words are no longer necessary

Titan of the theatre, Brian Friel
Titan of the theatre, Brian Friel Newsdesk Newsdesk

Brian Friel, the titan of the theatre, who died on Friday aged 86 was a genius who preferred to stay out of the spotlight and let his plays do the talking. This is no more true than in his masterful Dancing at Lughnasa. In tribute we print the final monologue, complete with stage directions:

(DIRECTION: And as Michael continues everybody sways very slightly from side to side, even the grinning kites. The movement is so minimal that we cannot be quite certain if it is happening or if we imagine it.)

"And so, when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me.

"But there is one memory of that Lughnasa time that visits me most often; and what fascinates me about that memory is that is owes nothing to fact.

"In that memory, atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory.

"In that memory, too, the air is nostalgic with the music of the thirties. It drifts in from somewhere far away a mirage of sound, a dream music that is both heard and imagined; that seems to be both itself and its own echo; a sound so alluring and so mesmeric that the afternoon is bewitched, maybe haunted, by it.

"And what is so strange about that memory is that everybody seems to be floating on those sweet sounds, moving rhythmically, languorously, in complete isolation; responding more to the mood of the music than to its beat.

"When I remember it, I think of it as dancing. Dancing with eyes half-closed because to open them would break the spell.

"Dancing as if language had surrendered to movement, as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness.

"Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in those assuaging notes and those hushed rhythms and in those silent and hypnotic movements.

"Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary..."

(DIRECTION: Slowly bring up the music. Slowly bring down the lights.)


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