Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'Threshold' Contributors: Brian Friel

Another writer with whom Mary O’Malley corresponded on contributing to Threshold is the renowned playwright Brian Friel. The Lyric Players Theatre in fact also staged his play The Enemy Within in 1963, which along with the earlier example of Seamus Heaney is another example of Mary O’Malley’s recognition of the achievements of young Irish writers. Friel went on to guest edit Threshold.

Friel shares another similarity with Heaney in that they started their careers as teachers, both training at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast. Friel though went on to teach for over ten years at schools in county Derry before eventually leaving in 1960 to write full-time. Heaney and Friel, as two of the most celebrated writers in modern Irish literature also share the distinction of being elected a Saoi of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists.

Friel’s play The Enemy Within premiered at the Abbey in Dublin in 1962, but ran for just nine performances. However, Mary O’Malley corresponded with Friel and negotiated a revival of the play by the Lyric in September 1963, which proved a great success and was broadcast on both the BBC Northern Ireland Home Service, and on Radio Éireann. Some of the items of interest in the Lyric Theatre archives in relation to this production are a heavily annotated script, a signed programme, and black and white photographs of the cast, as well as the aforementioned correspondence.

In later years the Lyric produced more of Friel’s plays, including The Gentle Island (1972), The Loves of Cass Maguire (1976), and Philadelphia, Here I Come! (starring a young Liam Neeson) amongst others. This has continued to the present day, with the most recent Lyric Theatre production of a Friel work being The Home Place during the 2008–09 season.

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