Having established a global focus on the town of Enniskillen with two highly successful summer festivals based on the life and work of Samuel Beckett, festival director Sean Doran has once again approached the third festival with a renewed and fresh focus.
The festival has developed with a programme covering 11 days and once again big names of international importance will be coming to Enniskillen at the beginning of August to take part.
“The extra days are an extension rather than expansion. The festival will run across two weekends. I tried to programme the two weekends so that each works. On the Tuesday and Wednesday there will not be any events other than the galleries being open,” he said, Not only has the programme been extended -- there are plans for an inaugural Oscar Wilde festival to take place next May Day bank holiday.
“I have been researching it for a year. It will be so different to Beckett. It will be more popular and more inclusive. Decorative arts will be a major part of it,” he said.
It will mean that instead of intense activity between April and August for the team that organises the Beckett festival, there will be work on Enniskillen festivals throughout the year.
The plan for Sean Doran is for everything to come up smelling of roses -- quite literally. Inspired by Wilde’s love of flowers, he hopes that Enniskillen will become Wildflower Town, with blooms erupting and cascading in such overabundance that the colourful beauty of the town will be a draw in itself. “That is something I would love the town to embrace,” he said.
In the meantime, there is the not-so-small matter of the Beckett festival to organise. The office has been set up on East Bridge Street -- two doors down from The Impartial Reporter -- and the programme brochure which is a fascinating read in itself is available next week.
The extension of the festival from five to eleven days is making events more accessible to audiences. “In previous years, accommodation had run out a month in advance. In the last two years we have had people from Japan, Australia, LA, Florida and a large number from the Republic of Ireland and particularly Dublin. London, we noticed, coming in last year,” said Sean.
And of course there has been interest from a local audience. “My take from year one is that the festival was very much embraced locally and attended locally very well both the first and second year. The businesses on the High Street getting involved is very significant, not just for us. It really belongs to the town. Visitors say the town has embraced it as well, to experience the festival as a place never been to before. It is an international arts festival providing something otherwise not provided here locally,” he said.
There is local talent in the programme. Adrian Dunbar directs the Ceithleann Island Theatre Company, a company of Fermanagh born professional actors, in their theatrical debut. Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre will also take centre stage in the subterranean venue of the Marble Arch Caves, One aspect of last year’s Beckett programme was FAB (Fooling Around Beckett), programmed by Patricia Martinelli.
“We could see it was going to work. It features the world of slapstick, buffoonery, comedy and mime, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton, from where Beckett takes a lot of his comic inspiration. We don’t have funding for it this year but I would like to develop that more,” he said.
The ticket prices are deliberately kept low to allow for easy access. “You have to offer economic access. It puts a lot of pressure on us. We want local people to be able to see something they haven’t experienced before -- a Beckett play, a classical music concert -- and we create that economic access to have a go. And for visitors who have to pay for travel and accommodation it is about them staying here for longer so the pricing has to be competitive.
Although the Beckett festival team gets together in the few months before the festival and works intensively during that period, Sean is working on ideas all year round. “I am constantly ruminating on it. The model for this festival is to take a single individual like Beckett then spin every single event event in one way or another out of his life or work. It is Beckett-inspired,” he said.
Beautiful Fermanagh locations can be an inspiration. Last year, scores of people travelled to Devenish Island to hear readings of Beckett’s work. The Marble Arch Caves are once again featuring in the festival as an underground venue. However, the use of the caves again was nothing to do with the success of last year’s Dante’s Inferno event at the Marlbank visitor attraction.
“I do not work to programme venues. I remember someone saying how could we host a Beckett festival in Enniskillen when it only has one theatre. Now that the festival is extended the Ardhowen is being used for four major events this year. Last year I went to see the caves and the caves inspired the artistic programme. I love that. We have spent a lot of time going to see smaller spaces and lots of different places. Finnegans Wake and Joyce had a major influence on Beckett. This year will be a sound installation work which is so beautiful and it is so fitting. It is extremely special”.
John Cage’s masterpiece Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake will be presented as the sound installation in the caves which can only be entered by boat. Excerpts from the dance version of the piece created by Merce Cunningham will also be presented artists from the local Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre.
“Merce Cunningham is for me the greatest choreographer of the second half of the 20th century,” said Sean. Another ambitious element of the programme and entirely reflective of Sean Doran’s imaginative approach to the programme, is a special international project, Awake All Finnegans. It calls upon all Finnegans (and Finns) in the world to join in a continuous reading of the whole of Finnegans Wake, starting at 10am on August 1 and ending on at 6pm on August 10.
Happy Days: Beckett International Festival is supported by the Arts Council Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Fermanagh District Council.
Tickets for the Festival are on sale from the Festival Websitee www.happy-days-enniskillen.com - The Festival opening will be a double presentation of Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot in two separate productions, one in French and one in Yiddish. En Attendant Godot will be presented by Theatre NoNo, based in Marseilles, one of the most exciting new French theatre groups, steeped in the clown and cabaret tradition. This will be the first ever professional presentation of En Attendant Godot in Ireland since its premiere in Paris in 1953. Wartn Af Godot will be presented by New Yiddish Rep from New York. Directed by Moshe Yassur, in an authorised translation by Shane Baker, the production attempts to restore ‘Godot’ to its language of origin. The production’s distinguished multi-lingual and multi-ethnic cast will be led by Avi Hoffman at Pozzo, a star of both English and Yiddish productions across the US and also includes nine-year-old Nicholas Jenkins as the boy, making his first visit to Ireland.
- A new production of Samuel Beckett’s one act play, Catastrophe (1982), directed by Adrian Dunbar, Festival Artistic Associate, and featuring the theatrical debut of Ceithleann Island Theatre Company, a company of Fermanagh born professional actors. The play, originally written in French and translated into English by the author, was premiered at the Avignon Festival and dedicated to the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel.
- The UK and Irish premiere of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (1958), directed by one of the world’s foremost directors in theatre and opera, Peter Stein and performed by the legendary stage and film actor and director, Klaus Maria Brandauer, making his first appearance in Ireland.
- The internationally acclaimed English composer, Gavin Bryars, will be the Festival’s composer in residence. He will present three concerts in three churches in Enniskillen. The opening concert: Celebrating Godot, will feature his most popular work, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in a special performance by the Gavin Bryars Ensemble with guests, Yurodny and The Crash Ensemble.
- Franz Schubert was unequivocally Samuel Beckett’s favourite composer, and Winterreise his single favourite work. The world famous baritone, Sir John Tomlinson and pianist Julius Drake will perform Winterreise.
- Rising young opera and theatre director, Netia Jones, will curate a live performance by the Crash Ensemble and actors of Beckett’s music theatre piece for radio, Words and Music, with music Morton Feldman.
- Four leading visual artists will be featured in the programme: Tacita Dean, Antony Gormley, Steve McQueen and Gerard Byrne, with exhibitions in locations across Enniskillen.
- During the Festival, there will be an opportunity to view an installation featuring Derek Jarman’s film, Waiting For Waiting For Godot (1983) at St Macartin’s Cathedral Hall.
- The programme of talks and special events by leading authors, artists and thinkers inspired by aspects of Samuel Beckett’s work will feature amongst others: legendary pianist, Alfred Brendel, best-selling author and Guardian maths-blogger, Alex Bellos, Beckett’s biographer, James Knowlson, celebrated food writer, Claudia Roden, author and journalist Ed Vulliamy, human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands, academic and journalist Germaine Greer, award-winning author, Blake Morrison, and internationally acclaimed actor and director Fiona Shaw.