An Tíoránach Drogallach

AN TAIBHDHEARC’S offering for this year’s Galway Arts Festival is An Tíoránach Drogallach, a translation as Gaeilge from Tom Murphy’s play, The Last Days Of A Reluctant Tyrant.

Translated by Macdara Ó Fatharta and directed by Anne McCabe, this in an exciting new interpretation, which will be performed in Irish with English surtitles.

The play is based on a Russian novel, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlyov Family and Murphy creates a portrait of a family in decline, terrorised by the matriarch Arina, and rent asunder by greed, fear, hypocrisy, and corruption, as well as self-serving piety.

Arina, the tyrant of the title, greedily acquires property to add to her estate, but chooses to favour the most amoral of her three sons, leading to the destruction of the family. Mairéad Ní Chongaile plays the leading role of Arina while the large cast also includes Diarmuid de Faoite, Macdara Ó Fatharta, Marie Bhreathnach, and Cillian Ó Donnachadha.

Macdara Ó Fatharta readily admits that translating Murphy’s play was a challenging undertaking.

“I was asked to do it by An Taibhdhearc but it took me a long time to say yes because it’s a very difficult play to translate,” he tells me. “It’s daunting. We’re talking about Tom Murphy, one of the great playwrights of the English speaking world, and one of the greatest Irish playwrights ever, he’s up there with Synge, O’Casey, and Friel.

“Tom is so accurate with his language, there isn’t a spare word. Also, in English, Tom is inclined to write one-word sentences in places and it is very difficult to do that in Irish; you have to find a phrase and that makes it wordier. That was a given anyway in translating from English to Irish. It took me about three months to translate it and I remember about half way through I said ‘I can’t go on with this, it’s too difficult’. I wanted it to be, and finally I think I succeeded, to be as honest as possible to the original.”

Murphy took his Russian source material and relocated the action to ‘a provincial rural area’. Ó Fatharta’s translation makes the play’s setting more explicitly Irish.

“It’s translated into western Irish which is where my Irish is from, actually my Irish is from the Aran Islands,” he explains. “The western Irish makes it more Irish and more local. It locates it more in a western Irish milieu.

“I imagined this woman, Arina, coming down from The Twelve Pins. The story is about a young girl who comes down and marries into a landed family on its last legs and now we meet her in her old age, on her last legs. She’s a matriarch who ruled with an iron fist and restored the family fortunes.”

While describing her as an iron-fisted matriarch may make Arina sound like John B Keane’s Big Maggie, O’Fatharta suggests an even more imposing and iconic parallel.

“She’s King Lear,” he declares. “She has three sons and they all die in tragic ways, as happens with Lear’s daughters. There are a lot of parallels with Shakespeare’s King Lear.”

Despite its 19th century Russian origins the play has resonance for contemporary Irish audiences.

“Two main themes are greed; the greed for land, and hypocrisy,” says O’Fatharta. “There is one character who is an ex-seminarian and he is a fine example of Catholic hypocrisy. There’s also a hunger for raw sex in a lot of the characters.”

An Tíoránach Drogallach is a large-scale play in every sense of the word.

“When I looked at the script at first I thought that the expanse of this play would be too big for the Taibhdhearc stage,” O’Fatharta confesses. “But I’ve seen the set now, designed by Dara McGee, and the story will sit on that stage. It’s a huge undertaking by An Taibhdhearc, a big cast, a big set. It’s ambitious but hopefully it should work.”

An Tíoránach Drogallach runs from Tuesday July 16 to Saturday 20 at 8pm with a preview on Monday 15. Tickets are available through www.galwayartsfestival.com and the Festival Box Office, Galway Tourist Office, Forster Street.

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