Adrian Dunbar to direct Homer’s Odyssey on Donegal beaches launching new arts project

Adrian Dunbar to direct a production of Homer's Odyssey
Adrian Dunbar to direct a production of Homer's Odyssey

Acclaimed Irish actor/director Adrian Dunbar will direct a special site-specific adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, presented episodically with food and music on five of the most beautiful beaches in Donegal. This will launch Arts Over Borders, a new cross-border arts initiative for Ireland to run over the Bank Holiday weekend August 24-28, 2017.

Arts Over Borders builds on the work developed over the last five years by Seán Doran and Liam Browne who masterminded two hugely successful literary festivals - the Happy Days Beckett Festival celebrating the work of the absurdist Irish playwright and A Wilde Weekend in Enniskillen which delved into the decadent brilliance of literary genius Oscar. More recently the pair were responsible for putting together a year-long programme to mark the opening year of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace line-up in Bellaghy.

All these events aim to highlight the relationship between artists and the island of Ireland, crossing borders and histories. The initiative is supported by a set of Irish artist patrons including Colm Toibin, Fiona Shaw, Eimear McBride, Kevin Barry, Ciaran Carson, John Banville, Lisa Dwan, Lisa McInerney, Nick Laird, Roy Foster and Adrian Dunbar.

In this first year, Arts Over Borders will celebrate the relationship between Brian Friel and Homer; it is said that each year Friel would read one or other of the two Homer epics.

The Odyssey, directed by Adrian Dunbar, will be recited by actor Niall Cusack and take place on the beaches of Tullan Strand Bundoran (August 24) with Yeats’ Ben Bulben to one side and the highest cliffs in Europe Slieve League on the other. It will also be performed at Narin (August 25), Carrickfin (August 26), Marble Hill (August 27) and Fahan, Inishowen (August 28) whilst in Derry’s Guildhall Square will stand Odysseus’s cunning idea of the Trojan Horse under the Walls of Derry evoking both the Troy and Derry siege in another genius piece of concept-oriented dramatic art.

Adrian Dunbar said: ”Brian Friel, I believe, would be excited to hear of our plans to read Homer’s Odyssey on the beaches of Donegal. It was here after all that he imagined them first, lost among the islands or marching purposefully like Spartans to hold the Gap at Barnes Mor. Niall Cusack will be our Rhapsode in the Tent telling the story, there will of course be music and wine and fires lit. Theatre governed by the tides. I can’t wait.”

Over 10 days, fencing, martial arts and archery will also take place in the vicinity to help recreate the feel of Homeric times plus there will be storytelling for children from under the belly of a mock-up Trojan horse.

Frielfest 2017 will also have performed readings of three great plays by Friel in unique locations across the region including the festival’s signature play, Making History, directed by former Royal National Theatre Associate Mick Gordon (An Grianan Theatre Letterkenny, August 25 and The Guildhall Derry on August 26). The Enemy Within will feature 10 actors from Belfast-based Kabosh Theatre (St Mary’s Church Knockmoyle where Friel was born, and St Columba’s Church, Long Tower Derry, August 25 and 26). There will also be a promenade-style production of Faith Healer performed in community halls in Glenties, Portnoo and Ardara ending at the Highlands Hotel (August 25-27).

Christopher Logue’s unfinished epic War Music, an account of Homer’s Iliad written over 30 years, will be directed by Conall Morrison (hot on the heels of his recent five-star Guardian review for his Galway International Arts Festival hit Woyzeck in Winter) in five indoor locations along the magnificent Walls of Derry (August 24-28).

Prior to the reading of Making History in the Guildhall, Dr Malachy O’Neill, provost of the Ulster University Magee campus, will give an introductory talk on the place of the play in Friel’s work and earlier that afternoon Malachi O’Doherty and Brian Feeney debate how history is made and the role of traditional and social media in this.

On the following weekend, September 1-3, 2017, Enniskillen’s Happy Days Beckett Festival, also part of Arts Over Borders, involves Adrian Dunbar’s production of Ohio Impromptu by Samuel Beckett on Devenish Island and Beckett’s Catastrophe in a secret location.

Other events in the 2017 Happy Days festival include a Beckett Schubertiade with Benjamin Appl performing Winterreise and tenor Nicky Spence performing Swan Song, both accompanied on the piano by Julius Drake, and the free Precious Little concert will be given by the mezzo-soprano Ruby Philogene MBE.

The talks programme involves Garrett Carr and Kapka Kassabova discussing borders and Raymond Tallis and Mark O’Connell exploring themes of death and immortality, whilst the opening festival talk is given by Kathryn White from Ulster University.

Speaking about the plans for Arts Over Borders, artistic directors Seán Doran and Liam Browne added: “Now, more than ever, we believe we need to celebrate the great literary heritage of Ireland, which has no boundaries. Over the coming years, we hope to create a major international platform for Ireland to speak to the world, built on the foundations of its writers, a roll call of some of the greatest in the English language.”

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