Arts Over Borders celebrate Beckett and Friel across six counties this August

The first three weeks in August will see events taking place across six counties – from Antrim to Donegal, Tyrone to Derry~Londonderry, Fermanagh to Cavan – to celebrate the work of writers Samuel Beckett and Brian Friel.

Presented by Arts Over Borders, the 6th Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival takes place from 02 – 05 August, while the 3rd Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival returns to Derry~Londonderry, Omagh and Donegal from 09 – 19 August.

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!

Co-programmer Sean Doran from Arts Over Borders explains the reasoning behind this novel approach:

“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 Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival will be the final edition in the border county of Fermanagh ahead of Brexit so programmers have created as the festival centerpiece 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 (25 July – 25 August) is a collaboration with the W.B. Yeats Tread Softly festival which will see poetic works by both Nobel Prize winners exhibited on billboards on either side of the border and experienced by audiences from their cars traveling at 60mph!

Purgatorio: Walking for Waiting for Godot (04-05, 18-19 August) sees one of Beckett’s most famous works being performed in the transnational Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark.  In this unique production, produced in association with the Lyric Theatre, 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 Antony Gormley.

The 2018 Beckett Reader in Residence at the festival is actor and star of three James Bond films 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 (03-05 August).

Theatrical performances of Beckett’s work include the powerful political drama What Where (02-05 August), The Old Tune (01, 03, 04 and 06 August) exploring two men living on the margins of society and Not I & Pas Moi (04-05 August) in which an unnamed woman, visible only by her mouth, reflects on her life in a torrent of words.

Samuel Beckett’s love for music is acknowledged with mezzo-soprano Christianna Stottijn performing the traditionally male role of Winterreise (05 August) by Franz Schubert, a French Song Recital with a programme including Ravel and Debussy on 4 August and internationally acclaimed cabaret and vaudeville artist Camille O’Sullivan performing in English and French on 03 August.

This year’s Lughnasa FrielFest explores Friel’s love of Homer, the ancient Greek poet, with two special productions of his epic poems The Odyssey and The Iliad.  Co-programmer Liam Browne from Arts Over Borders explains:

“Brian Friel was a great admirer of Homer’s work, reading either The Odyssey or The Iliad each year, so we will be staging 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 production of The Odyssey (09 – 19 August) will take place in a pitched tent on beaches from Magilligan in Co. Derry to Lisfannon in Co. Donegal.  It will feature highly acclaimed stage and screen actors including Maxine Peake, Nastascha 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.

In Derry~Londonderry from 10-12 August, actor 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 12 August with a soothing concert of spirituals and songs by opera and gospel singer Ruby Philogene, a first prize winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award.

The festival’s appetite for innovation continues with Friel’s Faith Healer (10–12 and 17–19 August), 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(18-19 August) will bring together fourteen 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 star Ian McElhinney also features in a rehearsed reading of Friel’s Living Quarters (10-11 August), 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 (10-12 August) tells the story of an accountant who has an affair on holiday, while Afterplay (17 August) revisits the lives of two characters from Chekhov plays, Andrey Prozorov and Sonya Serebriakova, who had a fictional existence twenty years previously.

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

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

 Tickets for the 6th Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival and The Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival are on sale now and can be booked online at

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