Stars of stage and screen lined up for Beckett and Friel festivals

Arts Over Borders reveals a host of familiar faces celebrating the writers' works in unique, site-specific events this August

The first three weeks in August will see events taking place across six counties on both sides of the border – from Antrim to Donegal, Tyrone to Derry~Londonderry, Fermanagh to Cavan - to celebrate the work and socio-political themes of Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett and playwright Brian Friel.

Last summer the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival and Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival returned under the new Arts Over Borders iniative, with the Beckett Festival expanding this year across Fermanagh, Omagh and Cavan from August 2 - 5, and FrielFest coming to the Causeway Coast for the first time in addition to Derry, Omagh and Donegal from August 9 - 19.

Organisers have now revealed a major line-up of recognisable names from TV, film and the stage involved in its newly announced programme of events, including Natascha McElhone, Adrian Dunbar and Tamsin Greig, as well as cast members and the writer of Derry Girls.

Each festival will present events inspired by their respective writer at a range of unusual venues including underground caves, an island on a lake, beaches, the Derry Walls, village halls, a crypt, a roadside, a pier, a PSNI station and the top of a mountain.

Festival curator Sean Doran explained: 'Our bio-festival model takes its inspiration from the genius of an artist – in this case Samuel Beckett and Brian Friel - and is curated with a strong sense of place, both rural and urban, to create unique site-specific experiences which enable audiences to explore the artist’s work in new ways.'

The Beckett Festival will be the final edition in the border county of Fermanagh ahead of Brexit, so programmers have created as the festival centrepiece two experiential Beckett Border projects which audiences will experience in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Three (or more) Billboards Outside Enniskillen & Sligo (July 25 - August 25) is a collaboration with the W.B. Yeats Tread Softly festival which will see works by the two Nobel Laureates – an extract from The Tower by Yeats and 'Neither' by Beckett - exhibited on specially commissioned billboards on either side of the border, to be experienced by audiences from their cars.

Purgatorio: Walking for Waiting for Godot (August 4-5, 18-19) sees one of Beckett’s most famous works being performed as a reading in the transnational Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. In this unique production, produced with theatre companies from both sides of the border, half the audience will sit in Northern Ireland and half in the Republic of Ireland. Actors will approach from either side of the border and the set will feature ‘Tree for Waiting for Godot’, created by Turner Prize winner Sir Antony Gormley. 

The 2018 Beckett Reader in Residence at the festival is stage and screen actor Colin Salmon, while Enniskillen natives Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar and actor and author Ciaran McMenamin will offer rare readings of some of Beckett’s short prose works at St. Michael’s Crypt (August 3-5).

Stage and screen actor Colin Salmon who will be the 2018 Beckett Reader in Residence at the Happy Days Beckett Festival in August

Beckett Reader in Residence for 2018 Colin Salmon

Theatrical performances of Beckett’s work include the powerfully insinuated political drama What Where (August 2-5), The Old Tune (August 1, 3, 4 and 5) exploring two men living on the margins of society and Not I & Pas Moi (August 4-5) in which an unnamed woman, visible only by her mouth, reflects on her life in a torrent of words.

Beckett’s love for music is acknowledged with mezzo soprano Christianna Stottijn performing the traditionally male role of Winterreise (August 5) by Franz Schubert, a French Song Recital with a programme including Ravel and Debussy on August 4 and internationally acclaimed cabaret and vaudeville artist Camille O’Sullivan performing in English and French on August 3.

Odyssey

This year’s Lughnasa FrielFest explores Friel’s love of Homer, the ancient Greek poet, with two special dramatic readings of his epic poems The Odyssey and The Iliad

Festival curator Liam Browne, from Arts Over Borders explained: 'Brian Friel was a great admirer of Homer’s work, reading either The Odyssey or The Iliad each year, so we will be presenting dramatic readings of The Odyssey – a great epic of voyage, shipwreck and homecoming - across beaches in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and The Iliad – the story of the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek kingdoms – on the Walls of Derry, the city with the longest siege in British and Irish history.'

The festival’s presentation of The Odyssey (August 9-19) will take place in a pitched tent on beaches from Ballycastle in Co. Antrim to Narin in Co. Donegal. It will feature highly acclaimed stage and screen actors including Maxine Peake, Natascha McElhone, Imogen Stubbs and Frances Barber reading from Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s poem (the first in English by a woman), accompanied by Greek food, live Greek music and the crashing of the Atlantic waves.

Actress Maxine Peake, who will appear in 'The Odyssey' at Lughnasa FrielFest in August

Actress Maxine Peake, who will appear in The Odyssey at Lughnasa FrielFest this August

In Derry~Londonderry from August 10-12, actor and master linguist Niall Cusack will read five episodes from The Iliad in a military-style tent on a grassy knoll outside the Walls overlooking the Bogside and on different bastions around the Walls, surrounded on the Saturday by the dramatic soundscape of the Apprentice Boys' marching bands. The event will conclude on August 12 with a day of community martial sports on the Derry Walls and a soothing concert of spirituals and songs by opera and gospel singer Ruby Philogene MBE, a first prize winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award.

The festival’s appetite for innovation continues with Friel’s Faith Healer (August 10–12 and 17–19), a daring four-act monologue masterpiece, which explores truth, lies and the mystery of inspiration. The play will be presented with no director and no rehearsals by sensational West End stage and screen actors including Tamsin Greig, Rory Kinnear, Alex Jennings and Laura Donnelly. The audience will travel by bus to a different venue for each act of the play and will stop for an interval barbecue on Portnoo Pier.

Friel was also a great admirer of Russian culture and the festival acknowledges this with presentations of four plays connected to Anton Chekhov. Friel’s translation of Three Sisters (August 18-19) will bring together 14 actors (including Jamie Lee O'Donnell, Saoirse-Monica Jackson and Terry Keeley from Channel 4’s Derry Girls) for a rehearsed reading of this world of deception, disaster and self-sacrifice, directed by Paula McFetridge from Kabosh Theatre Company.

Derry Girls and Game of Thrones star Ian McElhinney also features in a rehearsed reading of Friel’s Living Quarters (August 10-11), Friel’s first Chekhovian play, directed by former Associate Director of the National Theatre, Mick Gordon. The play is a family drama about an Irish commandant who returns home to Donegal a hero after a successful UN mission in the Middle East and the scene will be set for the performance by musicians from Turkey and Iran, the Coskun Karademir Quartet.

Based on a theme from a Chekhov short story, The Yalta Game (August 10-12), with Stanley Townsend and Orla Charlton, tells the story of an accountant who has an affair on holiday, while Afterplay (August 17) revisits the lives of two characters from Chekhov plays, Andrey Prozorov and Sonya Serebriakova, who had a fictional existence twenty years previously and features Donna Dent and Richard Henders.

Two of the most exciting contemporary writers for stage and screen - Lisa McGee (writer of Derry Girls – August 17) and Jez Butterworth (writer of Jerusalem and The Ferryman – 18 August) – will join the festival programme to discuss their admiration for Friel’s work.

'Derry Girls' writer Lisa McGee who will discuss her love for Brian Friel at Lughnasa FrielFest in August.

Derry Girls writer Lisa McGee will discuss her love for Brian Friel at Lughnasa FrielFest in August

The closing recital of the festival (August 19) is a homage to the late Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky by his former pupil from the Ukraine, Andrei Bondarenko, who has been described by The Guardian as '…an astonishingly beautiful voice…on his way to greatness.'

Tickets for the sixth Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival and the Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival are on sale now and can be booked online at www.artsoverborders.com.