Dancing and more promised at Lughnasa festival in honour of Brian Friel

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A major two-part festival to celebrate Brian Friel, Ireland’s greatest modern playwright, with performances, talks, discussions, music, dance and good food will take place in Belfast and County Donegal between August 20 and 31.

The Lughnasa International Friel Festival, directed by Sean Doran, is a Biofestival with all programming having a clear connection to the artist.

It is also the first annual Festival to bring both sides of the border together with Donegal, Welcome to Friel Country (Aug 20-26) and BELFAST, HERE I COME! (Aug 26-31) forming Ireland’s first annually shared cultural event.

At the heart of the festival programme every year will be a signature production of one of Brian Friel’s key plays, presented in both locations.

In the first year, it will be a brand new production of Dancing at Lughnasa, produced by the Lyric Theatre from 26 August – 27 September and directed by Annabelle Comyn.

This signature production has inspired the entire festival programme, the Belfast element of which is expected to attract interest from both local and international tourists and has already gained the support of 42nd President of the United States Bill Clinton and the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins as well as backing from Belfast City Council and the Department of Culture Arts & Leisure.

BELFAST, HERE I COME! will run across the city from 26-31 August, with celebrations, many of them free, including classical and traditional music, five open air stages for dancing, a harvest food festival and Belfast’s first ever kite flying festival at the Titanic Quarter, Kitetanica.

Amongst Women, curated by Deputy Artistic Director Liam Browne is an all women talks programme will also take place featuring amongst others, Shami Chakrabarti, Director, UK Liberty; Kamila Shamsie, Pakistani novelist and commentator; Kathy Lette, comedien and author; Mary Portas, retail guru; Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator, and Sandi Toksvig, writer presenter, comedian and politician. The new production of Dancing at Lughnasa will be presented at the Lyric Theatre Belfast.

The playwright commenting on the Festival in his honour said: “If you want a festival that is tame and conventional and mildly entertaining don’t ask Sean Doran to organise it. Witness his Beckett Festival in Enniskillen -it is wild and imaginative and creative and riveting. I have total confidence he’ll do the same with the Friel Festival.”

Commenting Sean Doran said: “Belfast has a great tradition of celebrating its talent and The Lughnasa International Friel Festival is an opportunity for the city and its visitors to celebrate the works of our greatest living playwright. With an ambitious and varied programme the Biofestival will appeal both to the city’s residents and to tourists from abroad.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Arder Carson commented on the quality of the programme and its capacity to elevate the city’s standing as a cultural tourist destination: “Belfast City Council is delighted to support The Lughnasa International Friel Festival and it shows our commitment to boosting the number of visitors coming to our city. Tourism is a huge growth industry for Belfast, and we hope that by supporting events of this calibre that we will help cement our reputation as a top European cultural destination.”

Before reaching Belfast the first chapter of the celebration will open on Thursday 20 August in Donegal with a journey across the Foyle estuary from Magilligan to Greencastle, Co. Donegal, where Brian Friel lives, launching four days of unique events and performances from 21-23 August that evoke the relationship between the writer and the place.

These include an opening lecture given by Fintan O’Toole at the Guildhall Derry, the setting for Friel’s play, Freedom of the City introduced by Gary McKeone, whom Brian Friel dedicated his last and final play The Home Place to Gary.

Culture Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said: “It is fitting that one of Ireland’s greatest ever playwrights is being honoured with an annual festival and I congratulate Sean Doran on making this happen in an innovative and exciting manner. Brian Friel’s rich storytelling prowess has enriched all our lives and I’m sure that this will be a festival that will do him proud.”

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins also lent his support to the forthcoming celebrations saying: “It is entirely fitting that this festival is taking place on a cross-border basis, in several locations around Donegal and Belfast, given Friel’s experience of living north and south of the border – experiences which very much shaped his eloquent and thought provoking writings.

“I have no doubt that, through the work of one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights, The Lughnasa International Friel Festival will offer its audiences exciting new perspectives on a range of themes, both local and universal. I wish you (Sean Doran), and all those involved in the project, every success.”

International support for the festival has come from President Bill Clinton, Founder of the Clinton Foundation & 42nd President of the United States said: “Friel’s work is an Irish treasure for the entire world. Although many of his plays are set in his small town of Ballybeg, the themes and issues explored in them—identity, family, and conflict—have a universal appeal.

“It is his extraordinary understanding of people, their motivations and their dreams, and their sense of themselves and others that keeps pulling us back to Friel again and again.”

President Bill Clinton has been closely associated with Northern Ireland over the past three decades and on occasion has quoted Brian Friel in his speeches.

During the Festival, Queen’s University Belfast will launch the Festival’s first Brian Friel Summer School in Redcastle, Inishowen, County Donegal from 24-26 August, providing opportunities for students to experience the work of the writer right in the heart of ‘Friel Country’. Queen’s has the only theatre in the world named after Brian Friel.

Vice Chancellor Queen’s University Patrick Johnston commented: “We congratulate Sean Doran on the imaginative and ambitious programme he has prepared for the inaugural

“The Lughnasa International Friel Festival. We are delighted that Queen’s University’s Brian Friel Summer School will be closely associated with the event and look forward to future collaborations”.

Sir Bruce Robinson Chairman of the Lyric Theatre board is delighted to welcome the brand new production of Dancing at Lughnasa to the Lyric Theatre “We are delighted that our production of Dancing at Lughnasa is the cornerstone event of the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival.

“The Lyric has had strong ties with Brian Friel for many years. At the unveiling of the Threshold Stone of the new theatre he described the Lyric as a “secret land of mystery and of the spirit”. We are very excited to stage the 22nd Friel production at the Lyric and to bring Dancing at Lughnasa to Donegal, his home place.”

For more information visit the website www.lughnasainternationalfrielfestival.com