Festivals in honour of Irish literary giants Beckett, Wilde and Friel

Festival programmer Sean Doran
Festival programmer Sean Doran
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Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Brian Friel are three giants of Irish literature and this summer sees three distinct international bio-festivals taking place to celebrate their unique genius - Beckett’s absurdist black humour, Wilde’s flambuoyant wit and Friel’s keenly observed explorations of colloquial mores and manners - with a panoply of varied events from dramatic productions to readings and recitals taking place across four counties from Fermanagh to Donegal, and Tyrone to Londonderry.

Programmed by Arts Over Borders curators Sean Doran and Liam Browne, the Happy Days Beckett festival began yesterday with a talk by Irish academic Diarumuid Ferriter

discussing his latest book on the border and the legacy of a century of Anglo-Irish politics at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, the alma mater of both Wilde and Beckett, at a time when Brexit has brought the liminality and contested nature of the border especially into focus.

The celebration of Beckett continues until July 28 with the world premiere of three new productions of short plays from the Nobel Laureate’s extensive oeuvre, Come & Go, Quad and Catastrophe, choreographed by New York’s world-renowned Mark Morris while in another major headline event, Romeo Castellucci’s company will come straight from the opening of the Aix En Provence Opera Festival to present Schubert’s Schwanengesang (Swansong) - one of Beckett’s favourite pieces of music - at the Ardhowen theatre in Enniskillen; the composer’s Winterreise will also be sung by world leading baritone Roderick Williams OBE.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Beckett’s death, the festival celebrates a selection of his late short plays with Pas Moi, Not I and Ohio Impromptu running in addition to the Morris works and also looks at the late work of other artists such as Schumann, Scriabin and Chopin - other sources of inspiration and enjoyment for the much celebrated playwright.

A Wilde Weekend, August 2-5, opens with a talk by Matthew Sturgis on his biography of the decadent writer with screenings of The Happy Prince and Dorian Gray and a bus journey to a secret garden reading of The Selfish Giant. There will also be music by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss performed by Ruby Philogene MBE, Siobhan Stagg and Julius Drake. You can also see The Happy Prince Statue in gold leaf at Forthill Park, Enniskillen.

The Lughnasa FrielFest, August 9-18, will be held across venues in Donegal and Londonderry with stagings of Faith Healer in west Donegal, a promenade presentation of Freedom of the City starring Derry Girls’ Siobhan McSweeney at the Guildhall, The Yalta Game at St Eugene’s Hall, Moville, and The Enemy Within in an all-female production by Kibosh Theatre, plus Homer by the Sea - Homer being a major source of inspiration for Friel - enacted on the Donegal and Causeway Coast beaches.

“This moment of impending Brexit has certainly made the border a point of focus and we have always made it a priority to hold performances on both sides of the border, or indeed across the border sometimes during one event, and our audiences come from each side of the divide to celebrate the work of Beckett, Wilde and Friel,” said co-curator of the festivals Sean Doran.

“For the Beckett programme what really stands out are the works directed by choreographer Mark Morris, Come & Go, Catastrophe and Quad - the latter being an extremely rare dance piece. A lot of the work by Beckett is intense but has brevity which makes it accessible to audiences who maybe aren’t hugely knowledgeable about his work. Morris is a chorgeographer with a very light touch and when asked what he is hoping to get from audiences, he said a laugh. I think this is often overlooked in the Beckett world that he is humorous and very lightly so. Morris will bring this out gesturally, with a choreographer’s eye to the detail and I think it will be quite wondrous to see.

“To swing to another Portora boy, Oscar Wilde, what a difference, a lovely contrast, utterly different in style and wit - you couldn’t think of two more opposite writers. The popular highlight here will be At Home with Oscar Wilde created by David Grant where the audience will be taken through several rooms of the Portora school which he attended in the 1860s to see excerpts of his plays performed.

“For the FrielFest we have Greta Scacchi and Kathy Tyson doing readings of Homer at Downhill and Rathmullan followed by Culdaff and Dunfanaghy.

Our staging of Faith Healer in west Donegal involves four monologues with three actors and the audience goes to different locations, village halls up glens or overlooking the beach by bus, with a picnic at Portnoo Pier. We are doing two weekend performances with Patrick Beardie, Dearbhla Molloy and Robert Glenister, then the second weekend with Paul McGann and Amelia Bullmore. I love the conceit of this, there’s no rehearsals and no director so they prepare their own monologues and there’s an immediacy to that. In Moville we’ll have Sean McGinley and Marie Mullen, husband and wife, doing The Yalta Game. The last big one has to be what Kibosh is doing with The Enemy Within, Friel’s first published play from 1962 on St Columba on the island of Iona which he wrote a year or two after coming out of the seminary. Paula McFettridge has persuaded the Friel estate to allow her to stage an all female production which will be staged in Omagh and in Derry.”

Doran added in this Brexit-dominated political moment: “The border itself looms large in our three festivals with the specially commissioned experiential performed reading of Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot around Sir Antony Gormley’s Tree for Waiting for Godot, first on an upland bog on the border between Fermanagh and Cavan in the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark July 27-28 and Malin Head on August 17-18. This is a wonderful bookending to the overall 2019 Arts Over Borders festival from the Fermanagh-Cavan border up to where the border disappears into the Atlantic Ocean between Co Donegal and Co Derry. The title for this event is All Mankind Is Us: Walking for Waiting for Godot where the audience is invited to walk 3km to the performance. Vladimir’s quote in Godot: ‘At this place, at this moment, all mankind is us’, sums up best the importance for an international arts festival to take place on both sides of the Irish and UK border in these times.”

The Arts Over Border festival follows a bespoke format which takes its inspiration from the genius of a single artist and is curated with a strong sense of place, both rural and urban, throughout border communities and landscapes, bringing drama and performance into unexpected locations.

Tickets are currently on sale for the Happy Days Beckett Festival and A Wilde Weekend, with tickets for Lughnasa FrielFest available soon. More information and bookings can be made at www.artsoverborders.com.