Adrian Dunbar Takes On Donegal Beach 'Odyssey' as Friel and Beckett Festivals Return

The Enniskillen-born actor will bring Homer's Greek epic to stunning outdoor locations as part of Arts Over Borders initiative across 'northern literary lands'

Two of Ireland's greatest modern literary figures are to be celebrated in the coming weeks as part of a new cross-border arts initiative which will see the return of festivals centred around Brian Friel and Samuel Beckett.

First held in 2015 prior to the playwright's death, the Brian Friel International Festival will take place between Derry and Donegal over five days from August 24 to 28, with music, theatre, readings and outdoor events looking back on his life and work.

Arts Over Borders comes from artistic directors Seán Doran and Liam Browne, the creative duo behind Happy Days Festival and A Wilde Weekend in Enniskillen, and the opening year-long programme for Seamus Heaney HomePlace. It is run in association with the Nerve Centre.

In its first year the programme will focus on Friel's relationship with Homer – the late playwright was said to read one or other of the Greek author's two epics each year. And so, acclaimed Northern Irish actor/director Adrian Dunbar will direct a site-specific adaptation of Homer's Odyssey, presented episodically with food and music on five of the most beautiful beaches in Donegal.

The Odyssey will be recited by actor Niall Cusack and take place on the beaches of Tullan Strand Bundoran (August 24); 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 sieges. Over 10 days, sports of fencing, martial arts and archery will take place in the vicinity along with storytelling for children from under the belly of the horse.

Guildhall Square

Frielfest 2017 will also have performed readings of three great plays by Friel in unique locations across the region: the festival’s signature play, Making History, directed by former Royal National Theatre Associate Mick Gordon (An Grianan Theatre Letterkenny and the Guildhall Derry, August 25/26), The Enemy Within with ten actors from Kabosh (St. Mary’s Church Knockmoyle where Friel was born, and St Columba’s Church, Long Tower Derry, August 25 and 26) and a promenade Faith Healer in community halls in Glenties, Portnoo and Ardara ending up at the Highlands Hotel in Glenties, the location of Brian Friel’s grave (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 and involving three actors (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.

Friel Fest Aeneid Book VI An Grianan Credit Tony Carlin

Grianán of Aileach, one of the locations Seamus Heaney's Aeneid Book VI will be read as part of Frielfest. Photo by Tony Carlin

Arts Over Borders is also set to bring back Enniskillen’s Happy Days International Beckett Festival the following weekend (September 1 to 3), which includes Adrian Dunbar’s production of Ohio Impromptu by Samuel Beckett on Devenish Island and Beckett’s Catastrophe in a secret location.

Since its first year in 2012 'Happy Days' has won high critical praise across the world from the New York Times to the China Daily, being described by the Financial Times as the new kid on the block to Europe’s leading multi-arts festivals of Edinburgh, Salzburg and Avignon.

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

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Lough Erne, which hosts an early morning boat journey 'To The Islands' where festival artists will read works by Beckett

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 of DoranBrowne said: '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.'

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 cant wait..'

To book tickets for events and explore both festival programmes, visit www.artsoverborders.com/programme.