Friday 22 November 2019

A wonderfully kind friend who just enjoyed the crack

Although most people were in awe of his writing, Brian Friel didn't take the whole business too seriously, says Noel Pearson

Playwright Brian Friel
Playwright Brian Friel

Noel Pearson

I first met Brian Friel in the Theatre Festival Club in Dublin back in the 1970s. We were both drunk, but I knew straight away that he was the real deal.

A lot of people were in awe of him, but we became great friends outside the theatre and long before I worked with him, because we both enjoyed the crack.

We were at different ends of the business, but he used to say to me: "You have the instinct, which is much more important."

He didn't take the whole business too seriously, some people were in awe of him, but I wasn't like that.

He did Translations with Field Day in 1980 and they lost a lot of money, I think it was about £28,000, so I put it on in the Olympia and I did a lot of promotion and it was a great success.

He wouldn't do interviews, he wouldn't do the Late Late Show or anything like that, but he did agree to one with the New York Times and after about four days he rang me and said: "Can you get rid of him?"

He said he didn't know anything about the media, but I soon discovered he knew everything about everything.

He was very, very smart, but genuinely he hadn't any interest in anything flash - he hated this celebrity shit.

He loved politics, and he was very political. He was put into the Senate by Charles Haughey and they spoke to each other every Christmas Day or, if one of them couldn't make it, on St Stephen's Day.

He wanted to resign from the Senate, because he never opened his mouth, but Charlie told him: "You don't understand, it is us who are honoured to have you."

We would often have a drink together - whatever was going, wine, whiskey or brandy - and he loved stories and gossip. But he was also a wonderfully kind man, he did things quietly.

Things really changed for him when he got a scholarship to go to Tyrone Guthrie in the United States. I remember him telling me: "I went with two children and came back with three" but it was a major milestone in his career. He was professional, after that he wrote Philadelphia, Here I Come.

His writing was beautiful. Even in his few bad plays, and there is a couple of them, the writing is still beautiful, and that is what attracted so many great actors to want to work with him and act in his plays. And he worked, worked, worked, it meant everything to him.

I remember when I was living in Harcourt Terrace in 1990 and he waited until I left the house one day and shoved the script for Dancing At Lughnasa under the door with a note saying "Do what you like with this." Only in Ireland could something like that happen.

I went up to see him a couple of weeks ago, he had taken himself out of Letterkenny General Hospital and he would not do the 'chemo' because he knew he was too old. He had a cigar and asked if it would be pushing things to open a bottle of wine, and he was told it would.

Even then I was shell-shocked on Friday morning to hear of his death.

He was a special person, one that you hoped would be around forever.

(Noel Pearson was talking to Liam Collins.)

Sunday Independent

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