Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Brian Friel Remembered

In Memory

Directors , Theatre of Brian Friel , October-17-15
In Memory by Directors Joe Dowling: Friel is always clear in both meaning and form. He writes to communicate with the audience rather than alienating them and holding them at bay. Few playwrights working in the contemporary theatre can match the elegance of his language, the breadth of his vision, and the remarkable understanding of the emotional power of the theatre which he brings to each character he creates.

Conall Morrison: Friel has said that he's not interested in the scripts being devised and changed in rehearsal. And he does write them as a musical score. His understanding of the rhythm of a line, of a speech, of an act, of a play is absolutely crystalline, absolutely superb. And indeed the effect on the audience, wonderfully, ironically, is that it just seems effortless. But we know that the man has just created a Swiss clock.

Mark Lambert: Brian is very good with characters of energy. Casimir's got huge energy. I saw “Translations” the other day- those Doalty characters, those people who come bursting in with massive energy. That's very exciting to watch and exciting to play. They're not self-aware characters. There's a naivety about them as well, which is also a point of Brian's greatness as well. He can write naïve characters, which for a sophisticated intelligent man is actually not that easy. He can do both- create the articulation of an intelligence like “Faith Healer” and yet create those characters who aren't aware of themselves. Or they only show touches of awareness, which is very poignant.

Patrick Mason: I found working with Brian on a new play extremely stimulating and extremely demanding at the same time. I think he has an extraordinary precision, not only obviously of language, of expression but also a precision of gesture. And a precision of, if you like, gesture. At physical sense of positioning on the stage, which might be seen to be more the role of the director than the playwright. But I would argue that all the best playwrights have an acute sense of the physical dimension of theatre as well of course as its music, its power of language.

He also has this extraordinary capacity, which is very demanding, to nuance a line quite perfectly. By which I mean not just of meaning but of emotion, nuance of character. And these nuances are extremely fine, strangely accurate inflections of emotion and character which are carried in the syntax and vocabulary of a line, in the rhythm of a line, in the placing of a line.

Mark Lambert: When it comes to the theatre he says “I don't know”. I like artists when they admit they don't know, because it frees you. It relaxes you. People who pretend they know- directors, writers or actors- are dangerous because they're frightened. Brian is a writer who's always said “I don't know.” He hates answering questions about his writing, and I know that from having directed his plays. He will not answer the questions.

Joe Dowling: Great theatre is created from a lively combination of the author's imaginative world and the actor's emotional discovery...With each new Friel play, the director and actor are faced with major challenges, of characterisation, and often of language and its theatrical possibilities. The staging difficulties usually relate to a correct balance between realism and an instinctive theatricality which is part of each play, no matter how naturalistic the basic story.

Conall Morrison: I have not come across another playwright bar Shakespeare that actors cling to with such devotion and who is spoken of so fondly.

Joe Dowling: In the majority of the plays it is the unspoken things, the silences, the misunderstandings, the deliberate confusions and tricks of memory which tell us the stories and maintain the narrative drive.

Mark Lambert: So he's given Irish theatre prestige and an international name, and he's given actors huge opportunities. At one point single-handedly. Nobody else was doing that.

Quotations taken from “About Friel: the Playwright and the Work” by Tony Coulter (Faber & Faber 2003)

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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