Review: Translations (Toronto Irish Players)

Toronto Irish Players’ production of Translations is theatre for history buffs and language enthusiasts

Translations, presented by Toronto Irish Players, at The Alumnae Theatre, is not the usual style of show I am sent to review. I was excited to see the show, but a little worried as to what I would have to say about the evening. Luckily, my guest for Thursday night was a linguistics student, therefore had a lot of great observations about Translations, which helped me gather my thoughts about the evening.

The plot of Brian Friel’s script follows the lives of the inhabitants of Baile Beag over a period of a few days in 1833. The British Army has arrived to replace all the Irish place names with English ones causing a snowball effect of unfortunate events.

The story of Translations is slow to develop, much time is spent establishing the intricate relationships between the ten characters. At first, I wasn’t very sure where everything was leading. In the end though, the commentary on language, cultural diversity, and colonialism left a lot to ponder. My guest and I had a rich conversation about language and translation on our journey home, catalyzed by the story.

There were some enjoyable performances and clear direction present in Toronto Irish Player’s production, but my guest and I agreed that we would have enjoyed sitting down and just reading the script. Friel is a lot to live up to. With three languages being spoken (English, Latin and Greek) and the fact that English also serves to represent Gaelic, without very direct intention it is hard to follow the story.

Probably the most engaging performance, for me, was that of Sarah by Lara Kelly. Though her character barely speaks, her physicality made her intentions and desires very clear and believable. Simultaneously she succeeded in maintaining that physicality throughout her time on stage, without pulling focus from the central action on stage. I also appreciated that her character served as a microcosm for what was happening to the Irish community.

My guest enjoyed James Phelan’s portrayal of Hugh as well as Matt Jensen’s of Owen. He found both actors to be very sure of their characters and clear in their deliveries. I tend to agree with him on those observations. These two gentleman’s performances were the most direct and their relationships to the other performers were clear.

Though I didn’t find the show overly exciting or enrapturing, it was a pleasant evening. For anyone that is a fan of Brian Friel’s work, Toronto Irish Players’ production is worth checking out. History buffs and language enthusiasts would probably be the audience that would enjoy Translations the most.


  • Translations is playing at The Alumnae Theater (70 Berkeley St) until November 3rd, 2012
  • Performances are Nov 2nd and 3rd at 8pm
  • Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and students.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416-440-2888

photo of Michael Sherman and James Phelan.