Field Day at Clandeboye
A work in progress features original compositions and performances by Stephen Rea, Neil Martin and others
It’s 10.25PM in the evening, and Barry Douglas should be relaxing. Minutes earlier, the Belfast pianist finished his annual keynote recital at the Clandeboye Festival in Bangor, with a tumultuous performance of Mussorgsky’s ferociously taxing 'Pictures at an Exhibition'. Time to unwind a little, possibly?
Not yet. For here comes Douglas again, striding purposefully down the central aisle of the Banqueting Room at Clandeboye Estate, his concert blacks swapped for a casual white shirt more befitting the late night programme of readings and musical items in which he is about to participate.
Field Day at Clandeboye is the working title of the hour-long sequence, and it revolves around the presence in the hall of the Northern Irish actor Stephen Rea, a founding member of the famous Field Day Theatre Company, founded in Derry~Londonderry in the 1980s.
Rea’s myriad other commitments has caused the Field Day event to be shifted – hence the need for Douglas to work overtime on the evening – but it is worth shifting, not least for Rea’s galvanic personal contribution to proceedings.
Garbed in black, and pacing intuitively around the open space in front of Douglas’s still in situ grand piano, Rea reads from the magnificent ‘Cyclops’ episode in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, clearly relishing the opportunity to impersonate the slavering, porter-soaked Dublin brogue of ‘The Citizen’, self-styled oracle and bar room interlocutor.
The cracking pace Rea sets risks skimming over the intricacies of Joyce’s verbal interchanges, the richness of their comic detail. It’s a risk worth taking, however, when so much of the wondrously energetic interplay between the characters is communicated, and so many of Joyce’s burbling urban cadences are unforgettably registered.
Another Field Day actor, Jane Brennan, takes the audience to the opposite extreme of theatrical expression in a gently hypnotic reading from Samuel Beckett’s one-woman play Rockaby. ‘Another creature there / somewhere there / behind the pane / another living soul / one other living soul / till the end came / in the end came / close of a long day,’ runs part of the old woman’s monologue.
Brennan, proceeding with slow, autopsical precision, distils from Beckett’s limpidly pure and pared-down stanzas the soothing atmosphere of a lullaby, as the woman rocks back and forward in her chair, reflecting in lonely isolation.
And what of Douglas himself? He plays a typically tender, songful account of the 'G flat Impromptu' by Schubert, Beckett’s favourite composer. And then an Irish premiere, of Belfast-born composer Neil Martin’s 'Momento, homo', a piece developed from material used in Field Day Theatre’s recent production of Northern Irish writer Clare Dwyer Hogg’s play Farewell.
Douglas plays the work with all his customary focus and intensity, the flickering chordings in the upper keyboard initially suggestive of Debussy, then broadening into a fulsome emotional climax more typical of the Brahms and Rachmaninov pieces played at Douglas’s recital earlier in the evening.
'Momento, homo' has a clear structural trajectory, and an atmosphere of poignant reminiscence and reflection, the phrasing often clipped and fragmentary, as though selectively picking over the skeletons of a past too difficult to fully confront and contemplate. It deserves to be heard again, and to be recorded.
Martin, seated at the tail end of the entrance aisle at some distance from the other performers, also displays his prowess as a cellist, in solo renditions of the traditional airs ‘Port na bPúcaí’ and ‘Flower of Magherally-O’.
The cello is, of course, used mainly in classical compositions, but Martin’s profound immersion in traditional music and its practices draws darkly idiomatic ruminations from the instrument, whose deployment in this repertoire is totally vindicated.
Three short poems by Clare Dwyer Hogg – two specially written for the evening – punctuate the programme, and make you wish that they were longer. By now, though, it’s approaching 11.30pm, and is pitch black outside in the Clandeboye courtyard.
Time, finally, for Barry Douglas to rest a little, before the Clandeboye Festival – of which he is artistic director – resumes its busy course towards the celebratory closing concert on Saturday evening, at which the indefatigable Belfast musician – a force of nature, if ever there was one – will conduct a Mendelssohn symphony, and play a Mozart concerto.