Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Dancing at Lughnasa

Go To

Dancing At Lughnasa is a play by Irish writer Brian Friel. Its narrator is Michael, who is reminiscing about his childhood living in a small town of Ballybeg in Co. Donegal. He lived with his mother and her four unmarried sisters. He remembers one summer in particular when the sisters' lone brother Jack returns from Africa - where he was supposed to be acting as a Christian Missionary. However he appears to have "gone native" - which has negative repercussions for the rest of the family. The main cast are as follows:

  • Kate: The eldest sister, crotchety and a borderline Evil Matriarch.
  • Maggie: The fun-loving ray of sunshine.
  • Agnes: A Shrinking Violet who keeps the house running.
  • Rose: Described as "special" by the others.
  • Chris (full name: Christina): The youngest and Michael's unmarried mother.

Rounding out the cast are Michael's younger self and his deadbeat father Gerry. The play was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon and Rhys Ifans.


Tropes present in the original play:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Rose claims that Danny Bradley calls her his 'Rosebud'. The rest of the family call her Rosie.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Rose is described as 'special' and appears to have some kind of disability.
  • Book-Ends: The blocking for the final scene mirrors that of the first one.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: An off-screen character called Sofia in town. Her film counterpart is quite accurate.
  • The Charmer: Gerry is known for his charm.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Jack, after his return from Africa.
  • Defiled Forever: The town's attitude of Chris having a child but being unmarried. Inverted in Jack's own opinions - apparently in African countries it is considered a wonderful thing to have a "love child" as he calls them.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The play is set in the 1930s. Jack converting from Christianity to paganism? Absolutely scandalous in Ireland at that time. What's more is that the rest of the family is disgraced for this too. In those times, if one family member did something like that, the whole family was considered shamed.
  • Advertisement:
  • Did Not Get the Girl: An old flame of Kate's is Austin Morgan, who she never properly got with. Her eventual fate is acting as a tutor to his children.
  • Disappeared Dad: Gerry is barely around and eventually disappears from Michael's life altogether.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: At one point Michael pranks Maggie by telling her she's just stepped on a rat.
  • Extreme Doormat: Agnes is this to the rest of the house. At one point she snaps at Kate that she's pretty much her skivvy.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Chris's eventual fate working in the knitting factory.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Michael's opening narration states that Jack came home to Ballybeg to die. Even so his death is not confirmed until the closing narration.
  • Genki Girl: Maggie is usually singing and dancing, and generally in good spirits.
  • The Ghost: The play takes place entirely inside the house, so many people are only referenced offscreen. Michael's younger self is technically this too. He's referred to as "Boy" in the script to distinguish the two. Essentially the older Michael reads those lines while the rest of the actors talk to thin air as if there is a child there. Though some productions ignore this and cast an actor to play the young Michael.
  • The Great Depression: Set during the 1930s, with an air of bleakness about the town.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Chris wants to tell Agnes the bad news about the knitting factory right after she catches her acting too friendly with Gerry.
  • Happily Ever Before: Michael gives a closing narration that states what happened to the rest of the family - and talking about how the house became a shell of its former self. The play however ends with a playful scene of all the characters joking together.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Michael's narration states that he saw a picture of Jack in his uniform twenty years previously and he looked "magnificent", so he's quite startled to see him now emaciated in his fifties.
  • Irony: Danny's first wife left him by moving to England. His next attraction Rose does the same.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kate is aggressive and rude to everyone...but also deeply cares for her family and worries about being able to keep the house together.
  • Old Maid: Kate gets mocked by the townspeople for being this.
  • Pet the Dog: Kate dotes on Michael and is nicer to him than she is to her sisters.
  • The Pollyanna: Maggie, though Michael's narration suggests that towards the end she became more like a Stepford Smiler.
  • Proper Lady: Michael's narration describes Kate as this.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Agnes and Rose end up fleeing to England. It doesn't end well for them.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jack was previously a chaplain in World War I.
  • Ship Tease: Gerry and Agnes. The film plays it up a lot more.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers:
    • Gerry and Chris, due to the former not wanting to settle down. He disappears from her life altogether and has another family.
    • Rose and Danny can't be together because he's still legally married and she's under the thumb of her conservative sister. She eventually flees to England.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Kate. The Ice is with everyone. The Sugar comes out usually around Maggie.
  • Their First Time: Strongly implied that Rose lost her virginity when she went up to Lough Anna with Danny Bradley.
  • Those Two Guys: Agnes and Rose are usually seen together, and eventually flee to England together.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Played with. The characters pause onstage while the adult Michael tells what happened to them. There's actually still a couple of scenes after this. The film's ending is a straighter example.

Tropes Present In The Film:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Quite a lot:
    • The action in the play never leaves the house. Numerous events that happen outside in the town etc. are given to the audience second-hand. In the film we get to see most of what happens.
    • Characters who were only referenced off-screen in the play appear in the film such as Danny Bradley and the Parish Priest.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Kate is given far more Pet the Dog moments, showing that Michael is a Morality Pet for her, and Meryl Streep softens her greatly through her performance. We also see her softer side come out when she flirts with an old flame.
  • Adaptational Context Change: The sequence of the sisters dancing along to the radio music happens early on in the play, but becomes the climax of the film. This serves to make it the last time the sisters were all truly happy together.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Danny Bradley. Whatever happened with him and Rose in the play made her excited rather than scared. The film has him drunkenly abusing her.
  • Big Fun: Kathy Burke's portrayal of Maggie.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The film plays this up more with Kate, showing her warming up when she chats to an old flame and having more tender moments with the others.
  • Gag Echo: Rose jokes that people in the town call Kate "the gander". When she visits the local shop, that's the first thing Sofia calls her.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Kate and Sofia's mother have a conversation about how Kate was Sofia's favourite teacher. Cut to Sofia inside the shop saying "that old bitch".
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Kathy Burke's accent slips from scene to scene.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Changing things around to show what happens outside the house sort of goes against the whole point of the play, as well as having a physical actor playing Michael. On the other hand, those things would never work in a film. Also the famous dancing scene is moved to the climax of the film when it takes place in the play's first act. In some ways it makes it less of a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: