Enniskillen hosts Samuel Beckett festival


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The Independent Culture

An international festival to celebrate the work of writer Samuel Beckett has begun in the town where the Nobel Prize winner went to school.

Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland is playing host to a diverse, five-day programme of events to mark the life and times of the avant-garde poet, playwright and author.

In one of the more noteworthy performances of the Happy Days festival, David Soul of Starsky And Hutch fame will read some of Beckett's works.

The actor, who played detective Ken Hutchinson in the popular 1970s TV show, is a long-time admirer of the Irish writer.

Authors John Banville and Edna O'Brien are set to make appearances on stage as well.

And the festival is set to close in the grandest style on Monday when renowned opera singer Ruby Philogene performs.

Philogene is married to Sean Doran, the Irish-born artistic director who has organised the festival.

"This is the world's first annual festival celebrating Beckett," he said.

"In the long term the aim is to turn Enniskillen into a major cultural destination.

"Like Salzburg is to Mozart and Stratford is to Shakespeare, Enniskillen can be to Beckett in five years' time."

The director, who lives in Australia but has based himself in Enniskillen for the last five months to plan the festival, said the events would reflect the many facets of Beckett's artistic achievements.

"Beckett is often seen purely as literary, what with his play Waiting For Godot, but he actually starred in a film with Buster Keaton, he wrote a dance piece and TV plays and he also had a big interest in classical music," he said.

"So the festival is very much multi-arts."

Beckett was a keen sportsman and the festival will acknowledge this with a series of lighthearted athletic endeavours.

There will be a rowing race on the waters of Lough Erne, which surrounds the island town, as well as a cycling event and a rugby match.

Eleven artists will play 11 critics in a cricket match.

"We are even going to have a race to see who is the fastest artist, so it will be a lot of fun," said Doran.

The Londonderry-born director, a former chief executive of the English National Opera, explained why he had selected Enniskillen when Beckett's other bases of Dublin and Paris might well have played host.

"I got deeply into Beckett about six years ago when I was with the national opera," he said.

"It was obvious to do something like this in Dublin or Paris but I remember telling a friend I would love to bring something back to Northern Ireland, where I am from.

"And he told me 'did you know Beckett went to school in Enniskillen?'. I never knew that. So I raced down and being from Derry I didn't know Enniskillen well but when I saw the place I knew it was a perfect fit.

"It is a beautiful, romantic place with so much history."

Christopher Brooke, who rents luxury holiday cottages on the scenic Colebrooke estate in Fermanagh, said the festival was great news for the whole county.

"Beckett was an extraordinary man and a great son of Enniskillen," he said.

"The festival is absolutely fantastic news for Fermanagh tourism.

"This is the first year and hopefully this is something that can be built on in the years to come."