Irish playwright Brian Friel, 1929-2015

This video is called Dancing at Lughnasa FUNNIEST SCENE.

By Yvonne Lysandrou:

Obituary: BRIAN FRIEL, playwright, January 9 1929-October 2 2015

Saturday 10th october 2015

BRIAN FRIEL was Ireland’s greatest contemporary playwright and his death leaves a profound literary legacy which will haunt the imaginative landscape of Ireland for generations.

The trajectory of his work charts a creative history of the country, of which the most ambitious project was the formation of the Field Day theatre company, a collaboration with actor Stephen Rea. Significantly, it was launched in Derry, the embodiment of Northern Irish tensions.

That said, Field Day became a much larger cultural and political project involving a wide range of writers and artists who collaborated to reimagine an alternative vision of Ireland.

Often referred to as the Irish Chekhov, Friel’s work was embedded in the history and lives of Irish people, with Chekhovian themes of loss and yearning often played out in a rural landscape. Although frequently described as a dramatist of history and memory, it would be a mistake to only think of Friel in these terms. His plays do indeed revisit past traumas and anxieties, from Making History, set in the 16th century, to Translations and the linguistic confrontation with British colonisers three centuries later.

However, Friel revisited the past to address the present. Above all he was a playwright of commitment, of passionate involvement with the psychic effects of colonialism and of the continued marginalisation of a people at the mercy of economic and social forces outside their control.

This is most poignantly expressed in Friel’s most famous play Dancing at Lughnasa, set in the impoverished, post-independence west coast of Ireland.

His memory of how that play came about is telling. On returning from a production of one of his plays at the National Theatre in London, the director Thomas Kilroy commented to him that no doubt many of the homeless sleeping in doorways were Irish, whereupon Friel stated that two of his aunts had indeed ended up living rough on the streets of the capital.

Dancing at Lughnasa is dedicated to his five aunts and it is unquestionably Friel’s greatest dramatic achievement. On the one hand, he gives voice to the forgotten lives of his aunts and dignity to the disintegration of their hopes and dreams but, on the other, he depicts an Ireland which cannot emerge intact from the impact of colonialism that is still to be witnessed in a fractured country today.

The tragic character of Kate embodies the schism of an Irish people desperately trying to hold everything together and failing. As she says: “Hair cracks are appearing everywhere, it’s all about to collapse.” That’s a lament that can be traced throughout Irish literature, from WB Yeats’s “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” to James Joyce’s “cracked looking glass of a servant.”

As Chris says at the beginning of the play: ‘When are we going to get a decent mirror to see ourselves in?… I’m going to throw this aul cracked thing out…You can see nothing in it.”

Friel’s outstanding achievement is to hold up that “decent” mirror to Ireland.

5 thoughts on “Irish playwright Brian Friel, 1929-2015

  1. Pingback: The Socialist | Irish playwright Brian Friel, 1929-2015

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  4. Pingback: Chekhov, African Americans on London stage | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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