Playwright Brian Friel once said of his culture clash play Translations, it is “a play about language and only about language”. The inaugural production of Field Day (the company founded by Friel with actor Stephen Rea, formulising  a humanistic 5th Irish province of the mind and arts in which all parties could experience fealty) premiered in Derry's Guildhall where, 30 years later the Saville Inquiry confirmed British paratroopers had "lost control" and unlawfully killed 13 unarmed UK citizens on Bloody Sunday 1972. 

Friel and Field Day’s original intentions for the play are maintained in Ian Rickson and the National Theatre’s production of Translations which, following a sold out run in 2018, returns to the Olivier Theatre, albeit with a slightly modified cast. Translations sees Owen (Fra Fee), the prodigal son, return to rural Donegal from Dublin, accompanied by two British army officers, Captain Lancey (Rufus Wright) and Lieutenant Yolland ( Jack Bardoe).Their mission is to create a map of the area, replacing the Gaelic names with English. 

One aspect of this production that is extremely striking is Rae Smith’s set design joined with Neil Austin’s Lighting. The Olivier Theatre is completely transformed to represent the rugged, fields of 1830s Ireland (pre-famine), with characters frequently running across the harsh terrain or in and out of Owen’s father, Hugh’s (Ciarán Hinds) hedge school. The fields are covered in this thick brume, especially heightened by Austin’s lighting creating a stunning horizon through which characters appear and disappear. Though the terrain appears vast, the majority of the action takes place within the small setting of a hedge school in the Irish-speaking community of Baile Beag/Ballybeg (translating to “small village”- a common setting for Friel plays). An intimate atmosphere is formed between the characters, with headmaster Hugh often quizzing and testing the students of the hedge school.

In terms of the cast, the company all give absolutely stunning performances. Fra Fee’s portrayal of Owen, a man who is both aware that he is enacting a military operation on his homeland, and who has an underlying embarrassment of Donegal and it’s inhabitants, is complex. Seamus O’Hara’s role as Owen’s lame brother Manus, who remained to take care of his father, while Owen left for Dublin , and who refuses to oppose his father for the role of headmaster of the new National School, is profound. O’Hara takes on an amazing bit of physical theatre and choreography, showing Manus’s apparent limp all the way through the performance. 

Whilst on the British side, Bardoe gives a whimsical, naive performance to Lieutenant Yolland, who falls in love both with Ireland, and subsequently, Maire (Judith Roddy). The two, although not speaking the same language, fall in love with each other. The scene is romantic, with a darkened terrain, little spark of lights surrounding them . While being both touching and heartfelt, the scene is actually fairly funny, with the audience experiencing Yolland and Maire both speaking English, while they can't understand each others language. To see Roddy now play Maire as a softer character (after we’ve seen her treat Manus very harshly) is a welcome change of pace. 

Without spoiling the plot too much, the final scene slowly fades away from the hedge school of the 1830s to three soldiers, armed with machine guns, standing over the cast, atop a barbed-wired military installation.This is seemingly a flash forward to the time of the Troubles, although this final scene’s powerfulness is rather significant to our own times (this did not appear in the text itself nor the 2018 performance). Rickson’s inclusion of these foreboding soldiers dominating the scene on what appears to be a border, is germane to current political events in relation to the Irish border and the European identity of peoples throughout the British Isles. Etymology of the word Translations contains "to carry over" and in language (it also means relocation of a saint's remains) infers transmission of meanings across cultures engaging prospective mutual understanding between peoples, as philosopher Richard Kearney says the play Translations presents language not as a naming system, but as a way to find new relationships between the "sundered cultural identities of the island".The current production demonstrates that we may yet have much to learn from the classics of literature.