By David Young, PA
Line Of Duty star Adrian Dunbar has predicted a bright future for a literary festival in his home town after it returned with a bang following the pandemic.
Dunbar, renowned for playing Superintendent Ted Hastings in the hit police drama, has been involved in the Happy Days festival in Enniskillen celebrating the work of Nobel laureate playwright Samuel Beckett since its inception in 2012.
This year he directed one of Beckett’s plays amid ancient monastic ruins on the island of Devenish on the outskirts of the lakeland town in Co Fermanagh.
Beckett spent several of his formative years in Enniskillen as a boarding pupil at Portora Royal Grammar School between 1920 and 1923.
Fifty years earlier another of Ireland’s literary greats, Oscar Wilde, also attended Portora, which is now known as Enniskillen Royal Grammar School.
Dunbar, who grew up in Enniskillen, joined stage and screen actors from Ireland and beyond for the Beckett international festival’s first outing since 2019.
“The town is a really good size for a festival,” the 63-year-old said.
“It’s got some great places to eat. It’s got some really interesting buildings where we can curate things and it’s very proud of its connections with Beckett, and Wilde of course as well.
“My hopes for it is that it will sustain itself, that people will keep coming from across the world as they do.
“It’s lasted for 10 years, it survived Covid, a lot of things haven’t survived that period, but the festival has and it’s back and the aficionados are back, the Beckett lovers are back, the people who engage with Sam’s work are back and they’re coming from all over the place again.
“They will come from America and they will come from Australia and Japan and all over Europe, and so therefore, you know, I’m hoping that that is going to sustain it, but also I’d like more people from Belfast and Derry and Dublin and Sligo, I’d like more people from Ireland to feed into the festival as well.”
Dunbar said he first became engaged with Beckett’s work when he saw a performance of the play Waiting For Godot in 1980 but said his involvement in the festival was the trigger that ignited a deep passion for his work.
“A literary festival around Samuel Beckett is an absolute no-brainer,” he said.
“He’s such an exemplary person in so many ways. He’s a bit of a hero of ours and so it was a no-brainer to get behind it and of course to promote the town and promote this part of the world.
“I’m very proud to have come from Enniskillen. This was an incredible place to grow up as a kid with the rivers and the lakes, the fishing, the boats, it’s kind of like Huckleberry Finn-type stuff.
“And so I’m always very, very happy to promote the town.”
As well as Ohio Impromptu directed by Dunbar on Devenish Island, the five-day festival also staged performances in a variety of other unusual settings, including below ground in the Marble Arch Caves.
Actors and artists Toby Jones, Sarah Connolly, Fleur Barron, Alex Murphy and Liam O Maonlai were among those taking part.
Sean Doran, the artistic director of Happy Days, said the challenge of securing funding to put the festival on made its success all the more satisfying.
“It’s a wonderful shock and surprise that it’s real and that people are turning up,” he said.
“We’ve had so many wonderful sold-out shows and they’re just coming back, you see familiar faces, you see a lot of new faces as well.
“We go from year to year. It’s a very, very underfunded festival and we sort of scrape the funding together. Therefore, it’s more rewarding to cross the line somehow or other with that, and each year it is a struggle to do so, but we get so rewarded by the audiences’ reactions – that’s what takes us on to the next year. We’d love to get bigger and better.
“I think it’s so important in our place, post-Troubles, to have this kind of equality of activity, that people here locally don’t have to go to London, New York, Paris, wherever it is, to see great artists and great actors.”
Mr Doran pointed to the growth of the Galway International Arts Festival as inspiration for what the Beckett festival could ultimately become.
“The business community here in Enniskillen absolutely loves the festival coming back because of the type of cultural tourists that come in who are so interested in the place and the shops and buying other things and spending time and so forth,” he said.
“So, I think there’s huge potential for it and I’d really love to see it, you know, the way the Galway International Arts Festival started in 1985 and look what it has become.”