No more waiting as inaugural Beckett event brings happy days to Fermanagh

 

DRAMA, MUSIC, literature and sport converged at the weekend in Enniskillen as the town played host to the inaugural Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.

The event was inspired by Beckett’s connections with the Fermanagh town. The playwright boarded at Portora Royal School, also the alma mater of Oscar Wilde, from 1920 to 1923. Artists from a range of disciplines performed in 30 venues in homage to Beckett’s inspirations and influence beyond theatre.

Not only was the Nobel laureate one of the foremost artists of the 20th century, Beckett excelled at most things he turned his hand to, from music to sport. “Beckett shone in a range of fields,” says Sean Doran, founder and artistic director of the event.

“He was a proficient pianist, with a particular affinity with Schubert, while his television play, Ghost Trio, was based on the largo movement from Beethoven’s work of the same name. He was also a very talented sportsman. He didn’t win any academic accolades at school, but he won all the medals for boxing, swimming, cricket, rugby and rowing.”

Mr Doran, a former director of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and English National Opera, said that interest had exceeded expectations. “Most of the events were packed out or oversubscribed. It’s a huge endorsement for the festival.”

The wide range of Beckett’s talents and influences was reflected in the diversity of the programme, which featured performances by musicians such as Gavin Bryars and Ensemble, Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake and Duke Special, readings by literary figures such as John Banville, Paul Muldoon, Alice Oswald and Edna O’Brien, and stagings of Beckett’s texts throughout the weekend.

A highlight of the festival was the Irish and UK premiere of US avant-garde director Robert Wilson’s stylised performance of Krapp’s Last Tape, a stunning display of light, sound, and physical theatre.

For a more traditional rendering of the play, there was the option of dropping into Portora Royal School where recordings of Patrick Magee’s and John Hurt’s performances in the role of Krapp played on a loop in the dormitories where Beckett once stayed. While there, visitors could see John Minihan’s photographic portraits of Beckett, as well as old school photographs of Beckett lining up for the rugby team, alongside Irish rugby international Alan Buchanan, and a chair engraved with the name of Frank Beckett, Samuel’s older brother who was head boy at Portora from 1917 to 1920.

Sport was a central theme of the Happy Days festival, with a rugby match and athletics events taking place. Other highlights included Lisa Dwan’s performance of the dramatic monologue, Not I , in less than 10 minutes, and a specially commissioned stainless steel sculpture by Antony Gormley, exhibited in the courtyard of Castle Coole, just outside the town.

The five-day festival finishes today. Mr Doran said he hopes it will become an annual event through which Enniskillen will become associated with Beckett.