Actor Niall Buggy on why Brian Friel's Translations is 'the greatest Irish play of our time'
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Actor Niall Buggy on why Brian Friel's Translations is 'the greatest Irish play of our time'

FOR Niall Buggy Brian Friel’s Translations is the ‘greatest’ Irish play of our time.

The actor, who is celebrating his fiftieth year in the business, also claims Friel is the best living Irish playwright of the modern era.

Buggy features in the latest adaption of Translations, which has toured the country in recent months and closes with a 14-day run in London.

Directed by James Grieve, Friel’s play about language is currently running at London’s Kingston Theatre, where it will remain until May 3.

For Buggy, who plays sorry soul Hugh in the popular 1980 piece, it’s a final chance for theatre fans to sample the best of modern Irish playwriting.

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“This is probably the greatest modern Irish play of our time really,” he told The Irish Post.

“It’s a very important piece of work and that’s the beauty of doing this play. Of course in my opinion Friel is the most important living playwright in the world today and are very lucky he is alive still.”

The 65-year-old actor, born in Dublin city but living and working in London for more than 40 years, claims the production of the Irish classic is a force to be reckoned with.

“We have been touring for a few months now and while it’s a joy simply to be able to do this great play, there has also been incredible reaction to it by audiences across the country,” he said.

“I first did the play on Broadway about seven years ago but there is definitely something special about this piece and performing it in Britain where it feel like audiences really know the story.”

Friel’s tale documents a small town in rural Ireland in 1833, where Gaelic, Latin and Greek are all spoken but English is not.

When British soldiers come along to enforce a ban on speaking Gaelic and anglicise the town’s existing place names a clash of culture and communication ensues.

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Somewhere along the way a pair of star-crossed lovers also find one another.

“Brian says this play is a play about language,” Buggy says, “and it does involve language and identity and all those things. But at the end of the day I would say it’s a play about love and the loss of love and how we deal with and survive through that.”

He adds: “That’s something we can all relate to, so it’s an international play – and the situation of changing languages has happened to minority groups all over the world.

“It looks at a time in Ireland when speaking Gaelic was banned and when someone takes away your own language is a very difficult thing. But in a strange way, of course, out of that came the great writers who produced a form of English - old English really - which was translated directly from Gaelic.

"So a beautiful form of English evolved out of it, but Friel doesn’t give any answers, he doesn’t say that’s right or wrong. He leaves that up to the audience.”

As a result the play - a Rose Theatre co-production with the English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatre - is particularly poignant for the Irish in Britain.

“It’s a great play for the Irish community because it shows the incredible knowledge that these people had back then,” Buggy says.

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“They all learnt Latin and Greek at these hedge schools and held their native tongue when it was unlawful. Many wouldn’t necessarily know that.”

He added: “I think everyone should see this play. For me it involves maybe the greatest love scene written in the last 100 years in any play, where neither person speaks the language of the other and yet they completely understand one another.

“It’s also a superb company and is a piece beautifully and sensitively directed by a man who cares about actors - which is not always the case with directors.

“I love the play more now than I ever did before.”

The Rose Theatre co-production with English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres of Brian Friel’s Translations completes its national tour in Kingston’s Rose Theatre, where it runs from April 23 April to May 3.

For tickets call 08444 821556 or visit www.rosetheatrekingston.org