Friel's Field Day 'did what theatre was supposed to do'

Seamus Deane (left) has paid tribute to his friend Brian Friel (right), who has died at the age of 86 
Cathal McGuigan

WRITER Seamus Deane has paid tribute to his friend Brian Friel, who has passed away at the age of 86.

Mr Deane is a director of the Derry based Field Day Theatre Company, which was founded by Brian Friel and the actor Stephen Rea in 1980.

Prominent local writers including Deane and Seamus Heaney were asked to join the project early in its development.

Mr Deane said that when Field Day was founded there was a feeling that Irish theatre “was in a slump and needed to be rejuvenated and reinvigorated”.

He said that in founding Field Day Friel and Rea not only created a theatre, but with that theatre, created an audience.  

“The theatre toured and travelled to every part of Ireland, not only to theatres but to school halls and community halls. In many cases people came and saw professional theatre for the first time and were enthused by it.

“Brian and Stephen both felt that they were doing what theatre was supposed to do, which was engage with, stimulate and be stimulated by an audience.”

Deane said that the theatre company and his writing enabled Friel to observe and analyse “the deforming effects of authority both on the authority itself and those upon whom it was exercised”.

Field Day’s first production was of Friel’s play Translations. Performed in Derry’s Guildhall on September 23 1980, the cast included Liam Neeson, Mick Lally and Stephen Rea.

Deane said that the Guildhall was deliberately chosen as the venue for the “symbolic power of the building,” rather than its effectiveness as a space for drama.

“It was the centre from which the gerrymandering system had been run and it was the centre of exclusion and of unionist power.”

“It was deliberately chosen as a repudiation of that and a replacement of it.”

Mr Deane said that he had visited his friend at his Donegal home recently and said that although Friel had been “fading fast” due to illness, he preferred to remain at home rather than undergo lengthy treatment in hospital.

“He felt much better and more peaceful at home and as far as we could tell he wasn’t, thank heavens, in frequent pain,” Deane said.

He added that in their last conversation, Deane and Friel had chiefly discussed politics in Ireland and abroad, which Deane said was “typical Brian”.


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