Dancing at Lughnasa review, National Theatre, London

First staged in 1990, Brian Friel’s “magnificent memory play” Dancing at Lughnasa has been revived at the National Theatre, said Sarah Crompton on What’s On Stage. And the production, directed by Josie Rourke, is a “glory”. The story is told from the point of view of a man called Michael, who is looking back on a childhood summer in Donegal in 1936. Michael’s unmarried mother and her four unmarried sisters have welcomed home their brother Jack (Ardal O’Hanlon), a priest just back from Uganda. 

What emerges is a finely calibrated drama about the “small tragedies” of ordinary lives, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. There’s a “Chekhovian” sense of “encroaching forces” outside the home, and of an apparent “stasis” within it, producing an “artful blend of nothing and everything happening at once”. 

This is a “beautiful production of a beautiful play”, agreed Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out. The design and lighting are superb, and while it is hard to single out actors from an “exemplary ensemble cast”, Alison Oliver, as Michael’s mother, is “particularly magnetic”. Derry Girls’s Siobhán McSweeney brings fine comic timing to the role of Maggie, said Fiona Mountford in The i Paper. And as Kate, the family’s sole breadwinner, Justine Mitchell gives a “performance of quiet luminosity”. 

Perhaps my “loneliest night in the theatre” was a production of Dancing at Lughnasa 30 years ago, said Clive Davis in The Times. I couldn’t understand why this unengaging play was so rapturously received. This revival is “undeniably handsome”, but I still find the piece “naggingly schematic and sometimes shamelessly sentimental”. The reason audiences love it, said Quentin Letts in The Sunday Times, is that it’s a nostalgic but nuanced “delight”, brimming with wistfulness, wit and poetry. It “will not suit thrusters in search of pulsating action”, but I left this “lovely, subtle, intelligent show in a melancholy daze. When theatre does that, nothing quite compares.

Olivier, National Theatre, London SE1 (020-3989 5455; nationaltheatre.org.uk). Until 27 May. Rating ****