| 17.1°C Dublin

Close

Premium

History lessons: post-colonial soul-searching and the stage

Irish playwrights have engaged with colonialism as a way of interrogating the present, writes Katy Hayes

Close

Awareness: Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles and Jim Broadbent in Martin McDonagh's A Very Very Dark Matter

Awareness: Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles and Jim Broadbent in Martin McDonagh's A Very Very Dark Matter

Awareness: Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles and Jim Broadbent in Martin McDonagh's A Very Very Dark Matter

The Black Lives Matter protests in the US sparked by the death of George Floyd spread worldwide and have produced an offshoot of post-colonial soul-searching in our neighbouring island. This was most clearly articulated by the pitching of slave trader Edward Colston's statue into the Bristol harbour. It has often been said the British educational system doesn't teach much about colonialism, but this is not entirely true. Brian Friel's great play on the subject, Translations, has been on the A-Level syllabus for many years, providing an effective history lesson of its own, albeit in an English literature class.

There have consequently been major productions of  Translations in recent times in the UK. A long-running one starring Ciarán Hinds at the National Theatre played in 2018 and 2019 and was recently made available during the lockdown as part of National Theatre at Home. It is one of the most widely seen and read of contemporary Irish plays in Britain.

Friel's play, first produced in 1980 by Field Day Theatre Company at the Guildhall in Derry, is about a Latin scholar who runs a hedge-school in fictional Ballybeg in the 1830s while that area of Donegal is subject to an Ordinance Survey mapping exercise by the British army. Translations is also a love story, with Máire, a local girl falling for one of the soldiers, Lieutenant Yolland.