Abbey Theatre pays tribute to Brian Friel -  An inspirational artist and world renowned playwright

Abbey Theatre pays tribute to Brian Friel - An inspirational artist and world renowned playwright

Remembering Brian Friel and his enduring legacy to the Abbey Theatre.

This morning, the Irish nation and the world theatre community is grieving the loss of an extraordinary and major playwright of our times. The flurry of fax messages back and forth between Greencastle and Abbey Street are no more with Brian Friel’s passing.

As we express our heartfelt sadness to his wife Anne and his family, we mark, acknowledge and celebrate this brilliant writer’s legacy to the Abbey Theatre and the world stage.

Fiach Mac Conghail, Director, Abbey Theatre:

“Over the years, Brian Friel has become my close friend and mentor, encouraging me in becoming Director of the Abbey Theatre, and inspiring me in my role with his sound incisive advice and exemplary courage and integrity.

My first privilege of working closely with Brian was as an Associate Producer for the world premiere of Dancing at Lughnasa at the Abbey Theatre in 1990. It was a joy to be in the company of this inspirational artist and to witness the play’s phenomenal success in Dublin, London and on Broadway. Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa paved the way for other Irish plays to tour to New York, giving Irish theatre a currency long since enjoyed by many of our writers.

I consider Brian Friel to be one of Ireland’s greatest nation builders who forensically interrogated and challenged the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. Brian Friel understood the power and ambiguity of memory in developing a sense of who we are as a people.

Throughout his career, Brian Friel has been part of the theatrical life of every theatre house and production company in Ireland. We all, in the wider theatre community, share in a huge grief and sense of loss of Brian.

I extend my personal and deeply felt sympathy to Anne and to his children, Mary, Sally, Judy and David, on the great loss of a loving husband and father.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

Brian Friel at the Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre’s creative collaboration with Brian Friel spans over half of the national theatre’s 110 years. From his first play for the Abbey stage, The Enemy Within in 1962, to our most recent production of Aristocrats in 2014, Brian Friel has introduced generation after generation of Abbey audiences to the joys and possibilities of theatre. Along the way, he has awakened our sense of theatre as a life-changing, vital and cathartic force.

At the Abbey Theatre we are privileged to have produced eight world premieres of Brian Friel’s plays, including The Freedom of the City, Aristocrats and Dancing at Lughnasa. The Loves of Cass Maguire and Faith Healer both received their Irish premieres on the Abbey stage.

Brian Friel has been a constant presence on our stages with numerous revivals of his work across five decades. The world he evokes in his plays has resonated with audiences on our numerous Abbey tours from Glenties to Broadway.

Memorable international tours include Dancing at Lughnasa (London, Broadway, Melbourne and Sydney), Faith Healer (London and New Haven, Connecticut), Wonderful Tennessee (Broadway) and The Freedom of the City (New York).

On Broadway, Dancing at Lughnasa garnered three Tony awards in 1992 for Best New Play (Brian Friel), Best Director (Patrick Mason) and Best Actress (Bríd Brennan).

The Abbey Theatre hosted a special birthday celebration for Brian Friel’s 80th birthday in September 2009. As a gift, we asked Brian to choose three plays that he always admired. He chose The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche by Thomas Kilroy, The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder, and The Dandy Dolls by George Fitzmaurice. These plays were read on the Peacock stage over three nights. Sinéad Cusack led tributes to Brian on the Abbey stage with live music and contributions by special guests.

Brian Friel’s plays are populated by characters that live long in our memory. Who could ever forget the Mundy Sisters in Dancing at Lughnasa, Frank Hardy in Faith Healer or Hugh in Translations – masterpieces of Friel’s imagination.

Actors across generations have had the privilege of appearing in Brian Friel’s plays on the Abbey stage. His writing has defined the careers of some of our most distinguished actors, including Ray McAnally, Siobhán McKenna, Donal McCann, Stephen Rea, Bríd Brennan, Catherine Byrne, and many others.

In his writing, Friel interrogates language, the notion of family, religion, history and our concept of what it means to be Irish. At the Abbey Theatre, he has inspired many well-known Irish Directors to interpret his work, from Ria Mooney, Tomás MacAnna, Joe Dowling to Patrick Mason, Ben Barnes, Jason Byrne, Brian Brady and Conall Morrison.

Brian Friel’s canon of work constitutes a living, evolving history of Ireland. Here was a playwright striving to ensure that the past never became fossilised, and deeply aware that it is ‘not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language’ (Translations).

The loss of Brian Friel is deeply regretted not only by his family, friends and colleagues but by those people all over the world who value his work. But in Brian’s own words, we are now invited to a place where ‘words were no longer necessary’.

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