Donegal takes centre stage at Lughnasa FrielFest

Donegal takes centre stage at Lughnasa FrielFest

The Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival returns to Donegal, Derry~Londonderry, Omagh and comes to the Causeway Coast for the first time, from 9 – 19 August.   The festival will celebrate the work of playwright Brian Friel with an adventurous mix of site-specific literary and theatre events and venues from An Grianan Theatre to Magheroarty Beach!

Presented by Arts Over Borders, this year’s Lughnasa FrielFest also explores Friel’s love of Homer, the ancient Greek poet, with special dramatic readings of his epic poems The Odyssey and The Iliad. Co-curator Sean Doran from DoranBrowne explains:

“Our bio-festival model takes its inspiration from the genius of a single artist – in this case Brian Friel – and is curated with a strong sense of place, both rural and urban, to create unique site-specific experiences which enable audiences to explore the artist’s work in new ways.

Brian Friel was a great admirer of Homer’s work, reading either The Odyssey or The Iliad each year, so we will be presenting The Odyssey – a great epic of voyage, shipwreck and homecoming – across beaches in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and The Iliad – the story of the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek kingdoms – on the Walls of Derry, the city with the longest siege in British and Irish history.”

The festival’s presentation of The Odyssey (9 – 19 August) will take place in a pitched tent on five beaches in Co. Donegal – Narin, Carrickfinn, Lisfannon, Killahoey and Magheroarty –  reflecting Donegal’s status as the county with the longest coastline.

Magheroarty Beach

It will feature highly acclaimed stage and screen actors including Maxine Peake, Natascha McElhone, Imogen Stubbs and Frances Barber reading from Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s poem (the first in English by a woman), accompanied by Greek food, live Greek music and the crashing of the Atlantic waves.

In Derry~Londonderry from 10-12 August, actor and master linguist Niall Cusack will read five episodes from The Iliad, which tells the story of the mythical final weeks of the Trojan War which began with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen of Troy.  The 30ft Trojan Wooden Horse which was such a hit with audiences last year will return to Guildhall Square and the poem will be read in a military-style tent at different locations around the Derry Walls.  The Siege of Derry will be commemorated that weekend and the performance will be surrounded on the Saturday by the dramatic soundscape of the Apprentice Boys’ marching bands.  The event will conclude on 12 August with a day of local community martial sports on the Derry Walls and a soothing concert of spirituals and songs by opera and gospel singer Ruby Philogene MBE, a first prize winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award.

The set the scene for stunning 30ft Trojan Wooden Horse which was such a hit with audiences last year will be returning to Guildhall Square from 9-19 August

The festival’s appetite for innovation continues with Friel’s Faith Healer (10–12 and 17–19 August), a daring four-act monologue masterpiece, which explores truth, lies and the mystery of inspiration.  The play will be presented with no director and no rehearsals by sensational West End stage and screen actors including Tamsin Greig, Rory Kinnear, Alex Jennings and Laura Donnelly. The audience will travel by bus to a different venue for each act of the play and will stop for an interval barbecue on Portnoo Pier.

Friel was also a great admirer of Russian culture and the festival acknowledges this with presentations of four plays connected to Anton Chekhov.  Friel translated Chekhov’s Three Sisters (18-19 August) to great acclaim and the festival brings together fourteen actors (including Jamie Lee O’Donnell, Saoirse-Monica Jackson and Terry Keeley from Channel 4’s Derry Girls) for a rehearsed reading of this world of deception, disaster and self-sacrifice, directed by Paula McFetridge from Kabosh Theatre Company.

Derry Girls star Ian McElhinney also features in a rehearsed reading of Friel’s Living Quarters (10-11 August), Friel’s first Chekhovian play, directed by former Associate Director of the National Theatre,Mick Gordon.  The play is a family drama about an Irish commandant who returns home to Donegal a hero after a successful UN mission in the Middle East and the scene will be set for the performance by musicians from Turkey and Iran, the Coskun Karademir Quartet.

The Yalta Game (10-12 August) is based on a theme from Chekhov’s short story The Lady with the Little Dog.  Starring husband and wife actors Stanley Townsend and Orla Charlton, the play tells the story of an accountant who leaves his wife and family behind in Moscow to go on holiday alone, where he has a brief affair.  Back home, the pair both find themselves obsessed by reveries and meet again to embark on a future of duplicity, ecstasy and perhaps of love.

The final play in the Chekhov series is Friel’s Afterplay (17 August)a site-specific work set in a café, which revisits the lives of two of characters, Andrey Prozorov and Sonya Serebriakova, who had a previous existence twenty years previously in two separate Chekhov plays, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya respectively. Portrayed by actors Richard Henders and Donna Dent, both characters are now middle-aged, but cannot escape the circumstances of their earlier lives.

Two of the most exciting contemporary writers for stage and screen – Lisa McGee (writer of Derry Girls – 17 August) and Jez Butterworth (writer of Jerusalem and The Ferryman – 18 August) – will join the festival programme to discuss their admiration for Friel’s work.

The closing recital of the festival (19 August) is a homage to the late Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky by his former pupil from the Ukraine, Andrei Bondarenko, who has been described by The Guardian as “…an astonishingly beautiful voice…on his way to greatness.”


Tickets for all Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival events are on sale now and can be booked online at


The festival is supported by TS Eliot Foundation and Tourism Northern Ireland, with Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, The Department of Foreign Affairs, Derry City & Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council and Community Partners the Nerve Centre, An Grianan Theatre, Fermanagh Herald and Ulster University.

Share This