Adrian Dunbar coming home for Happy Days 2022

David Roy chats to Enniskillen-born acting star Adrian Dunbar about returning home for this year's Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, his new TV cop show and how he was almost in Derry Girls...

David Roy
Adrian Dunbar has been a long-time supporter of and participant in Enniskillen's Happy Days festival. Picture by Paul Faith

IT DOESN'T take much to entice actor Adrian Dunbar back to his hometown of Enniskillen, but the Line of Duty star has long made a point of ensuring he's always on hand for the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.

The annual DoranBrowne-curated celebration of all things Samuel Beckett highlights the Dublin-born Nobel Prize winner's formative stint as a boarder at Portora Royal School between 1920 and 1923. Every year, it offers a reliably eclectic and inventive selection of events inspired by Beckett's works, life, interests and key influences – such as TS Eliot's The Waste Land and Ulysses by James Joyce, both touchstones for Happy Days 2022 in their centenary year.


Samuel Beckett attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen from 1920 to 1923

The 'destination festival' returns to the island town tomorrow to mark its 10th anniversary following an enforced two year break due to Covid. And, having supported and participated in Happy Days since its inception in 2012, Dunbar (63) will of course be contributing to 2022's five day festival programme, which kicks off tomorrow with a veritable 'greatest hits' of favourites from previous years alongside brand new events.

"A lot of the highlights of previous festivals that people have really loved are coming back, which is great," enthuses the London-based Co Fermanagh man.

"We're going to be down in the Marble Arch Caves again [for Inferno with renowned mezzo-soprano Ruby Philogene] and Clara Simpson is also going to be there [performing Not I/Pas Moi], we're doing Walking for Waiting for Godot again, we're down on Devenish with Ohio Impromptu and, of course, we're doing a Winterreise [the Schubert song cycle which was a Beckett favourite]."

Despite being one of the lesser staged pieces in Beckett's repertoire, the Dunbar-directed production of Beckett's 1981 two-hander Ohio Impromptu has actually become a Happy Days staple over the years. It's back for a record ninth time in 2022 to ensure that everyone gets another chance to experience this intimate and intense performance on Devenish Island, starring Vincent Higgins and Lalor Roddy as the 'Reader' and 'Listener' in an evocative 12-minute piece exploring life, love and loss.

Having recently directed an acclaimed production of the play in Liverpool's Toxteth Reservoir for a Beckett festival he helped organise in conjunction with the Irish Studies department at Liverpool University, the Enniskillen-born star is looking forward to reviving Ohio Impromptu again throughout the last three days of the Happy Days festival.


Ohio Impromptu has become a Happy Days favourite over the past decade. Picture by John McVitty

"It's a very atmospheric piece in itself, and it's a very atmospheric production when it's on Devenish," explains the actor, who has ensured that the island and Enniskillen itself will feature in the forthcoming second series of his Channel 5 travelogue Adrian Dunbar's Coastal Ireland, which he is currently in the midst of filming.

"The island lends itself to the content and language within the piece, where Beckett describes the Ile aux Cygnes – which is a man-made island in the middle of the Seine in Paris, designed to split the river in half in order to cut down its force as it runs towards the bridges. It's really long, and Joyce and Beckett used to walk up and down it all the time, having discussions and probably talking about things like The Waste Land.

"We also have two amazing actors in Lalor Roddy and Vincent Higgins, and the design of the piece is that only 24 people can see it at a time, so it's really first come, first served. I think people can be guaranteed a really interesting experience with a beautiful play."

Indeed, as with so much of Beckett's work, it's whatever the individual audience members bring to the play which will determine how they react to it.

"There's all kinds of things that people take away from [Ohio Impromptu], there's all kinds of ways of looking at it and trying to find a narrative," says Dunbar.

"But what it's really doing is throwing it onto you to see it as part of your narrative – who do you think these people are, what do you think the words mean? All those wonderful things that Beckett does.

"These are abstract absurdist pieces of work, but they have atmosphere and they make you think of things. All I can say is that everybody gets something out of it."


Adrian Dunbar opening the third edition of Happy Days in 2014. Picture by Paul Faith

While he already had an appreciation for Beckett's ouvre prior to becoming involved with Happy Days, the star is quick to emphasise just how much his involvement with the Enniskillen festival has been key to unlocking a greater engagement with the work of one of Ireland's greatest playwrights.

"If it wasn't for Happy Days, I would not have explored Beckett in the depths that I have explored him," enthuses Dunbar.

"I was first exposed to him in 1980 when I first saw a production of Waiting For Godot, but in a way I'd almost forgotten about Beckett until Happy Days arrived. Suddenly, it re-kindled my interest – and ever since I've been on a quest to find out more about him."

As for the festival itself, which attracts visitors from across the globe to Co Fermanagh every year that it's staged, Dunbar believes that it has put Beckett's Enniskillen connection firmly on the map.

"It's reputation is out there now," he says.

"We have people coming from all over the world, although I wish we could get more people to come down and support us from Belfast and Derry. A lot of people do come down [from there], especially people in the arts, but it would be really interesting for more people just to speculate on what it might be to come down to a Beckett festival and find out what it entails, because Seán Doran's curation is really exciting and I think people would get a lot out of it.

"It's a very unique festival in an island town. The town of Enniskillen is very well set up for a festival like this and people end up having a lovely time each evening in Blakes of The Hollow. It's a very wonderful, contained, very high quality Samuel Beckett festival and I really hope it keeps going.


Adrian Dunbar leading a world record attempt for the longest continuous reading of Finnegan's Wake at Happy Days


"It had a lot of momentum over those first two years, I thought 'this is going to run'. But, of course, we all hit the bumps in the road recently, and the arts and in particular festivals are finding it very difficult to keep going because funding has been cut. So it's a very hand-to-mouth game, particularly in Northern Ireland where it's difficult to plan ahead because you get funding on a yearly basis.

"But people struggle on and I think that there are lots of very interesting things happening all over the north in terms of sports and all kinds of stuff. And I would have thought a Beckett festival is pretty important in terms of our international catchment, because we bring in people to the festival who are from all over the world.

"They go back to Australia, north America, Japan, France, Spain and Germany and they tell their friends, and then their friends come as well."


Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure in Line of Duty

Already one of Ireland's most respected actors, Dunbar's profile received a massive boost from his role as Northern Ireland colloquialism-spewing anti-corruption copper Ted Hastings in all six series of the hit BBC crime drama Line of Duty.

The star will soon be back fighting crime in a brand new guise as retired detective turned jazz club crooner Alex Ridley, the titular character in new ITV crime drama, Ridley, from Vera-writer Paul Matthew Thompson.

"I'm really excited about it," enthuses Dunbar of the new series, which co-stars Coleraine-born actor Bronagh Waugh and was co-created by Jonathan Fisher who previously worked with the Enniskillen actor on the 2018 serial Blood.

"I play Alex Ridley a retired cop, and I've lost my wife and daughter in a horrible house fire to which somehow I'm connected. That's the storyline that runs through the series, but every week there's a murder and I've got to solve it.

"It's four 90 minute episodes and will probably go out every Sunday night, I'm not too sure. It's a whodunit in the same sort of territory as Midsomer Murders or Vera, and it's set in the north of England during the wet cold and windy winter. So it will be a bit darker."


Adrian Dunbar as Alex Ridley


The series will also finally allow the music-loving actor to combine two of his long-standing passions, as he explains.

"Ridley owns a jazz club, and I've always liked the idea of The Singing Detective – I always thought that was a really good hook. At the end of each ep he does a number at the club, so I've recorded three songs by the brilliant Richard Hawley for that.

"I think Paul's storylines are really good and I think we've got great actors in it, like Bronagh, who plays my second in command, and George Bukhari and Terence Maynard. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that audiences are going to like it."

And it seems that, while he will once again be playing a copper with an Irish accent, Dunbar isn't worried about Alex Ridley being overshadowed by his iconic performance as Ted Hastings.

"It's amazing, once I'm out of the uniform it's just not Ted anymore," he tells me.

"Ted needs the uniform, so without it all that stuff falls away, strangely enough. Very quickly, I think people are going to forget about Ted and get stuck into these storylines."

Speaking of Ted, we had to ask Dunbar for his opinion on Liam Neeson's tribute to the diesel-suckin' AC-12 leader with his cameo as a stern RUC cop in the final series of Derry Girls.

"Oh yeah – that was very good, very very good," the actor chuckles, before dropping a bombshell:

"I was nearly in it myself, but it didn't quite work," Dunbar reveals.

"I really wanted to play a character in it, y'know, to come in as somebody completely different. But yeah, Derry Girls, it's amazing the success it's had. It's hard to believe they only did three seasons – but then lots of brilliant series only did three, like Father Ted."

Of course, Line of Duty made it all the way to six – and fans are hankering for yet more bent copper busting from Dunbar and his co stars Martin Compston and Vicky McClure.

"Myself, Vicky and Martin are really keen to get back to Belfast for a bit of craic and visit all our old haunts and have a bit of fun again, but we'll just have to wait and see," says Dunbar of taking on a seventh series of the hit show written and created by Jed Mercurio.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that it's going to happen."

In the meantime, the actor has been working on an idea for a show based on the life of Irish revolutionary leader James Connolly, which may end up being something of a mini Line of Duty reunion if it comes off.

"I'm not quite sure how that's going to manifest itself, but Martin will be playing Connolly, Vicky and her fella Jonny [actor/director Jonny Owen] will be producing and probably myself and Irvine Welsh will be working on the script.

"That's on the long finger, though so we'll just have to wait and see."

In the meantime, Happy Days is here again.

:: Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, July 21 to 25. For more information on the full programme of events see


Walking For Waiting For Godot will feature at this year's Happy Days




THE REGAL CINEMATIC & SOUND INSTALLATIONS: A selection of audio-visual pieces at The Regal Cinema

2pm: Ear to Ear: The Waste Land, a sound installation by Pierre-Yves Macé. 40mins, £5

2.45pm: Ulysses – an art-film (director Alan Gilsenan). 70mins, £5

5pm: The Waste Land – a filmed reading featuring Dame Harriet Walter, Imogen Stubbs, Jade Anouka, Rory Kinnear and Colin Salmon (33mins), plus Robert Wilson: Video Self Portrait (7mins). £8


2pm to 5pm: Beckett in Folkestone (a secret wedding) – an audio-visual walk to three venues featuring Harriet Walter, Russell Tovey and Jade Anouka. One/two persons departing Forthill Park Bandstand every 15 minutes. 60mins, £15

6pm: Festival Opening Lecture at Enniskillen Royal Grammar – Robert Northridge. £5

7.30pm: NOT I/Pas Moi starring Clara Simpson, Inferno - Dante, Purcell, Beckett featuring Ruby Philogene in the Marble Arch Caves. 60mins, £20

9pm: Opening Concert by Liam Ó Maonlaí at Enniskillen Royal Grammar. £12

9.30pm: NOT I/Pas Moi starring Clara Simpson, Inferno – Dante, Purcell, Beckett featuring Ruby Philogene in the Marble Arch Caves. 60mins, £20



10am, 2pm, 4pm: Ear to Ear: The Waste Land. 40mins, £5

10.45am: Ulysses. 70mins, £5

1pm, 3pm, 5pm: The Waste Land (33mins), plus Robert Wilson: Video Self Portrait (7mins). £8


10am to 5pm: Beckett in Folkestone (a secret wedding). 60mins, £15

1pm: Precious Little Recital/Konstantin Kimmel at St Michael's Church. 15mins, free admission

6pm: Ohio Impromptu on Devenish Island. 120mins, £15

7.30pm: NOT I/Pas Moi. 60mins, £20

8pm: Dame Sarah Connolly song recital at St Macartin's Cathedral. 90mins, £15

9.30pm: NOT I/Pas Moi. 60mins, £20



10am, 2pm, 4pm: Ear to Ear: The Waste Land. 40mins, £5

10.45am, 6pm: Ulysses. 70mins, £5

1pm, 3pm, 5pm: The Waste Land (33mins), plus Robert Wilson: Video Self Portrait (7mins). £8


10am to 5pm: Beckett in Folkestone (a secret wedding). 60mins, £15

11am: Theresienstadt Recital by two singers and Julius Drake at St Macartin's Cathedral. £15

1pm: Precious Little Recital by Ema Nikolowska at St Michael's Church. 15mins, free admission

2pm: Walking for Waiting for Godot in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark. 240mins, £15

4pm: Toby Jones: The Graveyard Readings at Breandrum Chapel. 45mins, £8

6pm: Ohio Impromptu. 120mins, £15

7.30pm, 9.30pm: NOT I/Pas Moi, Inferno. 60mins, £20



10am, 2pm, 4pm: Ear to Ear: The Waste Land. 40mins, £5

10.45am, 6pm: Ulysses. 70mins, £5

1pm, 3pm, 5pm: The Waste Land (33mins), plus Robert Wilson: Video Self Portrait (7mins). £8


8am: Toby Jones: Among the Reeds: Krapp's Vision on Devenish Island. 60mins, £12

10am to 5pm: Beckett in Folkestone (a secret wedding). 60mins, £15

2pm: Walking for Waiting for Godot. 240mins, £15

5.30pm: Feride Buyukdenktas/Sunday Schubertiade at St Macartin's Cathedral. £12

6pm: Ohio Impromptu. 120mins, £15



10am, 2pm, 4pm: Ear to Ear: The Waste Land. 40mins, £5

10.45am, 6pm: Ulysses. 70mins, £5

1pm, 3pm, 5pm: The Waste Land (33mins), plus Robert Wilson: Video Self Portrait (7mins). £8


10am to 5pm: Beckett in Folkestone (a secret wedding). 60mins, £15

1pm: Precious Little recital by Fleur Barron at St Michael's Church. Free admission

7.30pm: Winterreise with Fleur Barron and Julius Drake at St.Macartin's Cathedral. £15


£20 Regal Cinema Pass: choose five events over five days at the Regal for the price of four. £100 Beckett Centenary Pass: choose your top 10 10th anniversary events. Book via or by phoning 028 6632 5440