Great to see that the unapologetically highbrow Beckett Festival which has just ended in Fermanagh for this year, has survived the funding famine. This is quite a feat for the celebrations of such a unsentimental and enigmatic author, whose work is so at odds with the normal run of Irish summer fare. Perhaps this is because almost by definition, it relies so little on Irish stereotypes and mixes the best of British and cosmopolitan with excellent indigenous talent, like a bijou Edinburgh Festival.
And just in case you might think that the festival would run out of ideas because of the limitations of Beckett’s spare output, the programme also featured Benjamin Britten and TS Eliot …
A recurring element at the festival is the contextualising of Beckett’s imagination alongside that of another literary master. Having already pursued connections with Dante (2013) and Joyce (2014), the festival’s co-star this year was TS Eliot. The programme included a new production of The Waste Land (directed by Dunbar), a lecture on the centenary of the publication of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by Eliot’s greatest critic, Christopher Ricks, and a stirring recitation of Four Quartets accompanied by a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op 131.
One of the great success is the marriage of performance to location in that part of Northern Ireland which is like no other.
Other events in this most distinctive, original and dreamlike of festivals offered no less profound experiences, not least because of the variety of venues it uses. To be on Devenish Island in the evening light was to be taken into another realm entirely. This grassy acreage of land, settled by monks in the 12th century, patrolled by a solitary cow, and adorned by a 100-foot high tower dating from 1157, was a 15-minute boat ride from Enniskillen. It was here, in the darkened confines of a single-storey grey-stone outbuilding a few yards from the water’s edge, that the staging was held of Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu, a 20-minute two-hander of extraordinary intensity.
And there are even plans for development
Under artistic director Sean Doran, there are plans for a literature centre to be located at the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen, to which Bill Clinton gave his name when it was built on the site of the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing. A “pilot” Oscar Wilde festival takes place in Enniskillen next month.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London