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The Aran Islands

From 12 critic and 14 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Slow, Absorbing, Intense, Intelligent

About the show

Irish Repertory Theatre presents a new adaptation of John Millington Synge’s classic work chronicling his travels to the desolate Aran Islands. More…

In 1898, upon the advice of W.B. Yeats, Synge went to live among the islanders to "express a life that has never found expression.’’ In this grey, sea-battered landscape, full of mist and wild rain, hearth is home and storytellers spin tales by the fire. Here Synge found inspiration for many later works including 'The Playboy of the Western World' and 'Riders to the Sea.' Irish actor Brendan Conroy tackles the story of Synge's time in this bleakly primitive, mystical land.

Theatre Reviews Limited

"This adaptation stars the master storyteller Brendan Conroy and provides one-hundred minutes of scintillating – often brilliantly bizarre – tales Synge shared...With irrepressible energy and indomitable enthusiasm, Conroy takes the audience on Synge’s island adventures delivering each story, canvassing every rock and every resident with exacting care...Gives palpable truth to every word of wisdom and wit teeming from the 'lonely rocks' Synge visited." Full Review


"The sheer poetic call of the undulations of the sea in its ferocity and tameness, the delicious descriptions and sound effects of language so indelibly linked to Synge’s later writing have found a marvelous home in this travelog/adaptation...I can imagine no one but Brendan Conroy to be the sojourner to the Aran Islands...I could understand and visualize every beat...This presentation will bring the sentinels of Galway Bay to your imagination." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“Brendan Conroy has the ability to hold an audience spellbound…Through it all, Conroy modulates his voice to express reactions, and he also strides or strolls about the stage under O’Byrne’s direction to provide much-needed movement to keep the performance from becoming static. It is mainly the actor’s gift for mellifluously immersing himself in Synge’s portrait of the islands and their people that commands attention and does justice to the play.” Full Review

Epoch Times

"The task of conveying the atmosphere of the islands as well as portraying several of its inhabitants and setting out their personal stories falls to one remarkable actor, Brendan Conroy...Conroy snatches one’s attention with his unique delivery; he almost devours each word, savoring the text as if it were a tasty feast...He gets to know some of the inhabitants and gains their trust. And with that trust comes an opening up of their hearts and souls. And stories pour out." Full Review

The Huffington Post

“Conroy’s delivery is as consistently stormy as the inclement weather on which he frequently reports. He’s like a theatrical camp counselor presiding over a campfire. There’s good reason for that. O’Byrne is telling the story of a man who told stories that call on yet another storyteller...His underlying message is that stories are forever. The strength of 'The Aran Islands' is that there’s no denying the point.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Conroy, a chameleon-like actor, is a mostly riveting presence...A criticism of O'Byrne's adaptation of 'The Aran Islands,' a unique hybrid of memoir and documentary, to a stage monologue would be that it gives the same weight to Synge and the storytellers as it does to their folktales...It's easy to see why directors and actors would be eager to unearth more of Synge's writing but O'Byrne's adaptation only really takes flight when Conroy is giving voice to its humorous and haunting tales." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“The demands placed on its star Brendan Conroy are of Wagnerian scale…While Brendan Conroy does an admirable job playing the many characters and Joe O’Byrne’s crisp direction keeps the proceedings moving, after about an hour a sense of sameness sets in. I would like to see Synge’s splendid study, which takes Aran Islanders from homemade cradle to coffin, performed by a large cast in which each storyteller tells his/her own tale.” Full Review

Village Voice

"Synge’s travelogue-like text hasn’t been adapted into a full-blown drama so much as whittled back into a hundred-minute piece of narrative...Fisherman’s nets and tackle comprise the duskily illuminated setting for Conroy’s performance, which, ultimately, is not entirely compelling. His eyes occasionally blaze with conviction as he flings his arms out to emphasize these tales, yet the actor’s vocal range is not especially varied, and the monologue turns a mite tedious before he concludes it." Full Review


"A faithful, if soporific adaptation...O'Byrne's adaptation and production (he also directs) eschews that dramatic potential for something a lot closer to a staged reading...Unfortunately, there is so little variation between the different characters that we feel like we're watching one long story time with granddad...Certainly many audience members will find the proceedings more thrilling, but it is hard to argue that a show with so little dynamic variance needs to be as long as it is." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"A travelogue with a fancy literary pedigree...Elegantly written, it's a tall order for adaptation to the stage...For all their effort, however, the result is pretty static...‘The Aran Islands’ is filled with tales but they don't compensate for the lack of an overall dramatic thrust. It might help if Conroy took a more dynamic approach to the text, but in general his intonation is slow and heavy, determined to treat each word as priceless. The result is lulling rather the captivating." Full Review

No More Workhorse

for a previous production “The content is rich, illuminating and diverse, and Conroy’s performance readily brings to life the stories of the Aran islanders as he moves with ease between narration, description and the dramatization…Conroy is consummate in conveying the future playwright’s awe and excitement at what he encounters on the islands...The actor’s recreation of the storytelling is animated and highly entertaining…This is a fine evening’s theatre.” Full Review

The Red Curtain

for a previous production “Brendan Conroy gives life to Synge...It is an excellent performance, although some of the island characters do come over as being similar…It is not so easy to adapt a social document to the stage. It could be more selective rather than be very faithful as it seems to be, or even use some of the intriguing backstory as part of the narrative...Bringing this to the stage can only be a good thing, although a little trimming might be the touch that reels us in completely.” Full Review

Absorbing, Exquisite, Enchanting, Great acting, Delightful

See it if you have a love of literature and powerful words that will enrich your soul. This is great writing and holds everything that you could ask

Don't see it if If you don't have concentration and don't appreciate lyrical language

Exquisite, Masterful, Must see

See it if Gem of a production. If you like Irish remoteness, literature, geography and tales

Don't see it if You don't know or admird Irish culture and literature; you don't like one person slow paced plays

Great acting, Quirky, Intense

See it if you like intimate spaces and can "see" what you "hear" with ease.

Don't see it if you lack imagination.

Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if you like classic Irish literature

Don't see it if Some stories were quite dark

Absorbing, Great acting, Quirky, Intelligent

See it if You are interested in Ireland, Irish mythology and folklore, Yeats.

Don't see it if You are not interested in monologues.

Solo performance, Good acting, Intense

See it if I have visited the Aran Islands, loved my time there. Hoped to feel some of that atmosphere. It was the wrong play for me to see tonight.

Don't see it if You have difficulty with heavy Irish accents, dark stories, very wordy plays. Stage was dark, stories dark.

Enchanting, Slow, Absorbing, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if you are interested in the Irish experience. It is a masterful glimpse of a different culture portrayed with humor and great affection

Don't see it if you need action and a plot. This is a journey into memory not a play in the strict sense of the word.

Confusing, Intense, Slow, Absorbing, Well acted

See it if Adaptation of Synge's journals of bleak island community as parts sociological study, travelogue & Irish mythmaking Interesting but slow

Don't see it if Actor Conroy doesn't offer enough variation between stories; they seem to blur into one contiuous monologue One standout - an Irish burial

Great acting, Riveting, Slow, Story-telling, Entertaining

See it if you appreciate a good story being told by a master, juggling Irish accents and voices.

Don't see it if you do not enjoy one-man shows or if you have a hard time understanding Irish accents.

Great writing, Dated, Great acting, Niche, Great staging

See it if Plays that look toward the attitudes and customs of the past appeal to you. You have a romanticized view of Irish culture.

Don't see it if You are modern and prefer plays that speak to the issues of our time. The spareness of one-man shows disappoints you.

Also One-man show and a semi-autobiographical text of a playwright writing ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Clever, Intelligent, Slow, Indulgent

See it if you're a fan of Synge & are curious about his non-fiction & its impact on his plays, enjoy 1-person shows in which the actor plays all roles

Don't see it if you can't concentrate during 1-person shows or deal with a variety of Irish accents, troubled by what the Irish had to endure every day

Also This play is based on Synge's notes and essays while visiting and rese... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Great acting, Great writing, Slow

See it if you love J.M Synge and can't read the works yourself. Great presentation of the work but a little boring.

Don't see it if you don't like one-person shows or Irish literature.

Sleep inducing, Tacky set design, Static, Better read than dramatized

See it if you're in need of sleep. This one will certainly lull you to sleep. The dark lighting is an asset to that end. There's no arc in this piece.

Don't see it if you can read the book instead. Or if you have any other plays to see.

Great acting, Absorbing, Intense, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if You like one man shows

Don't see it if You don't like one man shows

Cast & Creatives (8)