Shy Friel shows up

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The Independent Online
The Irish playwright Brian Friel made a rare public appearance last week at dress rehearsals for his latest work - a distinctly Irish version of Turgenev's A Month in the Country, which opens at Dublin's Gate Theatre on Tuesday. But Friel, whose last work, Dancing at Lughnasa, was acclaimed in the West End and on Broadway, where it won a Tony award, maintained his reputation for shunning the spotlight. He gave no interviews, limiting himself to terse replies to written questions from a single critic.

Friel's reclusiveness is legendary. A recent celebration of the Lughnasa Tony was held far away from media attention at his home in Donegal. Guests, such as the former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey, arrived by yacht. Friel, a Tyrone-born nationalist, has not always been quite so averse to public attention. Much of his work in the Seventies dealt with the troubles in Northern Ireland, and Mr Haughey appointed him an independent member of the Senate from 1987 to 1989.

But he can be more forthcoming in writing. Hinting at a personal debt to Turgenev in the foreword to his adaptation of A Month in the Country, to be published this week, he credits the Russian with 'creating a new kind of dramatic situation' in which psychological and poetic elements 'create a theatre of moods' - very much the territory of his own recent work.

But he admits that the new version 'may not be reverent to the original'. It was born out of a literal translation by Christopher Heaney, the scholar son of the poet Seamus Heaney, himself a previous Friel collaborator. The dialogue was then 'Irish-trained' by Friel.

The director, Joe Dowling, believes the adaptation has freed the play from the 'dry, academically translated script you got in other productions'. He adds: 'There's an Irish sound coming off it. Very often in the past with Russian plays in translation, you heard it with a stiff English accent and style.'

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