(Tóibín’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 10/2.)
The two years 1979 and 1980 came, courtesy of Brian Friel, as a time of miracles and sheer theatrical excitement for Irish audiences. In the early summer of 1980 an actor friend showed me the script of a new Friel play called Translations. In one sitting that afternoon I caught my first sight of what will remain one of the best pieces of writing for the theatre anyone will ever create. In that first reading I was overwhelmed by the polished structure of the play, the way in which innocence and irony and then love and beauty and then cruelty and hardness are conjured with and dramatised.
At first the changing of the names of the places in Ireland seems, in Translations, almost an innocent task, something that has to be done, but slowly it becomes almost insidious in the mixture of the carefree and careless way it is being carried out, and then the seriousness of the intent. And these names of places also become the bedrock for the great love scene in the play, and then appear once more when the places themselves, as they are named once more, are threatened by what is, in fact, a conquering army.
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