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Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival

Michael Rothmann, Roman Kaminski, Axel Werner, Gerd Kunath in Warten Auf Godot. Photo: Monika Rittershaus Michael Rothmann, Roman Kaminski, Axel Werner, Gerd Kunath in Warten Auf Godot. Photo: Monika Rittershaus
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For four years, the island town of Enniskillen has been at the epicentre of the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival. Under director Sean Doran, Happy Days attracts artistic excellence of the highest order. Far from being a po-faced affair, its programmes are laced with wit and some degree of eccentricity. Audiences troop uphill and down dale for performances on land, on water and underground.

Warten Auf Godot

The Ardhowen Theatre, perched above Upper Lough Erne, hosts the first visit to Ireland of the Berliner Ensemble with its UK and Irish premiere of Warten Auf Godot. This radical production has gathered controversy over the years. In 1984, Beckett gave director George Tabori permission to frame it as a play within a play, a concept which has evolved into a version peppered with subversive theatrical mischief. The translation from French to German, with English surtitles, prompts daring new visual references and unfamiliar speech rhythms. They are delivered by a cast who have been together since the 2006 opening, with Axel Werner’s Wladimir a thrilling study of elegant physicality.

Phaedra

Fifteen minutes of creative brilliance can make for a true festival event. Sophie Hunter and Andrew Staples’ collaboration on Benjamin Britten’s last vocal work is exactly that. At the centre of a vast, darkened equestrian arena within an abandoned castle, mezzo soprano Ruby Philogene stands motionless aloft a towering, revolving funeral pyre of ruched white silk. Ulster Orchestra players are ranged around, while Jack Knowles’ blades of light relentlessly slice into the final segment of a life wracked by forbidden love. Glorious of voice and calm of purpose, Philogene articulates the fatal plight of Racine’s tragic heroine through Robert Lowell’s eloquent translation. It is torturous to witness her agonisingly slow physical and emotional disintegration unravelling dramatically to an undefined end.

All That Fall

Director Max Stafford-Clark ticked the right box with the Beckett Estate by declaring that his vision for a new production of the radio play All That Fall was that there would be no vision. Audience members enter the space and are blindfolded, their concentration entirely focused on Beckett’s dark but affectionate portrait of life in a rural community. Among a wonderfully dense chorus of voices, Rosaleen Linehan’s stands out, cackling and careening as Maddy Rooney, a troubled elderly woman whose unscheduled walk to the station to meet her husband on his birthday is beset with neighbourly interventions and a disturbing echo that refuses to be quelled.

Ohio Impromptu

At twilight, a small boat chugs through the crimson sunset to Devenish Island, where an ancient round tower soars above the still waters. Inside a stone cottage, Adrian Dunbar recreates a Rembrandt-inspired scene for this premiere of Ohio Impromptu. In restrained, metronomic fashion, the Reader intones a bleak narrative of bereavement, while the silent Listener, who has heard the account many times before, gives unspoken commands for repetition and confirmation. As pale-faced, expressionless partners in memory, Vincent Higgins and Frankie McCafferty evoke a time and place far beyond, forever connected in the manner of other, better-known Beckettian pairings.

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Verdict
In this intriguing festival, held in the town where Beckett was at boarding school, atmospheric venues play an integral role
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