Sunday 4 December 2016

'He was the extraordinary within the ordinary' - Friends and peers pay tribute to the late playwright Brian Friel

Published 02/10/2015 | 11:06

Playwright Brian Friel
Playwright Brian Friel
World renowned playwright Brian Friel has died

Friends and colleagues of late playwright Brian Friel have paid tribute to an "extraordinary" man.

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Friel, who wrote 30 plays including Philadelphia Here I Come! and Dancing at Lughnasa, died peacefully at home in Donegal on Friday morning at the age of 85 after a long illness.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has led the tributes.

"His mythical stories from Ballybeg reached all corners of the world from Dublin to London to Broadway and onto the silver screen," he said.

"All of his plays, including Translations, Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here i Come! and Dancing at Lughnasa, will forever form part of the canon of greatness in dramatic writing."

President Michael D Higgins spoke to Sean O'Rourke on Radio One of his enormous sadness at Brian's passing.

"His contribution to Ireland is immense," he said, "He is a giant, not just of the theatre but of Irish literature and thought.  I think I have had the privilege of seeing nearly all the works and probably several times over.

"You have to remember there was not only enormous success on the professional stage with Brian's work but it's also in the schools and it is part of the repertoire of the amateur drama movement."

He added, "As a person I found him to be a warm, gritty, great friend, full of generosity and care.  He had very high standards for his work but he was very good company."

Also speaking to Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One, Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan described Friel as "a man of great toughness and gentleness, extraordinarily generous, and also, more than anything else, a man whose company you just loved to be in."

He added, "He was great company and he never wore his intelligence or his success or anything like that, he never let you know about that, he never let people know about that.  It was the extraordinary within the ordinary."

Friel's plays from Lughnasa to Faith Healer, to Molly Sweeney and Translations had all been staged at theatres across Dublin.

Colgan also described him as a "tough man" when it came to his work.

"If he didn't like something he'd let you know," he said.  "He was tough about his work.  You didn't go cutting a Brian Friel play! You didn't go cutting a line of it.  But you know, he did the work there was no need for you to do it in the rehearsal room."

Freelance director of theatre and opera Patrick Mason spoke about how Friel was an intensely private man.

"His work was the work and it would speak for himself, [he felt] he had no reason to speak around it or apologise for it or promote it and that's an unfashionable view nowadays but he didn't want to be in the limelight and wanted his work assessed for what it was on its own merits."

He described their friendship as "very precious".

Abbey Theatre director Fiach Mac Conghail said, "What was interesting and important about Brian was he was a great man of the theatre.  He loved actors and enjoyed working with them and watching their craft."

He added, "Through his work he made a commitment to try and get us to understand what being Irish was about  and our relationship with our history."

He said he would miss faxes from Friel as that was his "favoured method of communication."

Friel's good friend and theatre producer Noel Pearson said he would "miss him desperately."

Druid Theatre Company and Garry Hynes released a statement saying, "Druid is today mourning the death of Brian Friel.

Artistic Director Garry Hynes said, 'To have lived and worked in the theatre at a time when Brian Friel was writing his great plays was a privilege. He is gone from us now but the gift of his imagination will live on forever on the stages of the world. Rest in peace Brian.'

"The company extends its deepest sympathies to Anne, to his daughters and son and to the wider family of his close colleagues in the Irish theatre and abroad."

Irish playwright Brian Friel has died aged 86  

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