The Brian Friel Papers

this nagging idea of Dance

Among Friel’s preoccupations whilst writing Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) were what he called ‘this nagging idea of dance’ on the one hand and the extent to which the play’s form should be naturalistic on the other. Here we see some of the many ways in which Friel was thinking about dance, as well as some suggestions for non-naturalistic storytelling devices. These include an idea that Friel considered more than once during his writing career, which was the use of multiple narrators in the style of Dylan Thomas’s radio play Under Milk Wood (1954).

From MS 37,104/1, National Library of Ireland; copyright Brian Friel Estate, reproduced by permission.


17 May. ’89.

Of course the play can be written and adequately, maybe fully, realised in a naturalistic style.

But this nagging idea of Dance (naturalistic dance, dance as metaphor, dance as essential theatre, dance as complete self-expression*) persists. And that distances the play from naturalistic/realistic expression.

If so . . . . .

a) Narrator on psychiatrist’s couch: his early childhood

b) Narrator narrating to audience

c) Kind of Milk-Wood. Eight actors on chairs

[22 May 1989. The question, of course, is who is the play about? Is it about (a) the family? (b) the narrator/I figure? or (c) about both?

If it is about the family, as it seems, they why this narrator figure?] 

*Dance as memory – dance as dream-memory, dance as substitute for language, dance as worship. (7 June.)

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Presented in partnership with the National Library of Ireland