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Brecht and Friel: Some Irish Parallels ERIC BINNIE In the ancient and troubled frontier city of Derry, Brian Friel established the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980. He wasjoined in this bold endeavour by a number of other artists, including the actor Stephen Rea and the poet Seamus Heaney. All of the Board of Directors are Northerners. Their motives, in founding the new company, were to reappraise the political and cultural situation in Northern Ireland as it affects the whole of Ireland. They aim to examine and analyze the established opinions, slogans, myths and war-cries which have gone to the creation ofthe present troubles in Ireland. Like Brecht's Galileo in his final exchange with Andrea, perhaps like Brecht himself in his final years, on a not dissimilar frontier, Friel and his fellow directors clearly believe that there can, indeed, be a new age, despite all the evidence┬Ěto the contrary. The name Field Day has several implications - a day spent away from nonnal activities, a day spent outdoors, a sports day, a festival, a brawl, and, for example, in such popular usage, as "the critics had a field day," it suggests the chance to assert oneself to the fullest and most triumphant or pleasurable extent. In tenns of famous paintings, one thinks of Breughel's rustic holidays, the topsy-turvy world of periodic and necessary excess by which means rampant vitality is contained - a safety valve on the darker, less manageable energies ofthe people. Brian Friel has chosen the title Field Day wisely, having in mind most of the implications just listed. It is a theatre company which flourishes defiantly in the face of a grim, relentless, daily existence; festive, certainly, but also portentous. Just as Brecht chose to create his ensemble company right on the border between East and West, in order fully to exploit each side's fears and suspicions ofthe other in ways which were, ultimately, uniquely creative, so Friel founded his company in the strife-torn city of Derry, right on the edge of British Ireland, artificially cut off from its hinterland of Donegal, now in the Republic ERIC BINNIE (Southern Ireland). During his East Berlin years Brecht used the paradoxical invulnerability provided by the EastlWest dichotomy to create a theatrical system which now rightly bears his name. Brechtian tilealre, or dialectical theatre, became a mature form during these frontier years. As yet, Brian Friel's plays are too diverse in form to be compared to Brecht's later works, yet they may be comparable, in terms oftheir similar origins on borderlocations, which are, by their very nature, dialectical. The aims ofField Day Theatre Company are to create a shared context which might make possible communication across Ireland's border; to give all Irishmen an artistic "fifth province" rising above and covering the whole island, an hypothetical province which would neither accept the North/South division, nor ignore the separate traditional strengths ofthose on either side.I Thus Field Day is located in the North (British Ireland) and works in both North and South, yet has strong reservations about both. The intention is to create an awareness, a sense of the whole country, North and South together, and to examine predominant attitudes to the island as a whole. Friel's artistic development since the formation of Field Day has moved steadily towards a closer integration of historical considerations and contemporary themes, achieved, for example, by examining the role of language as a reflection of national character. He expresses this concern for language in the statement, "We [Irish playwrights] are talking to ourselves as we must, and if we are overheard in America or England, so much the better.,,2 Friel sees contemporary Ireland as being in a state of uneasy confusion, in which it is the dramatist's overwhelming duty to clarify, elucidate, and establish agreed codes, for purposes of communication and discussion. In explicating Friel's play Translations, Seamus Heaney points to the speechless character, Sarah, as a type of Kathleen ni Houlihan (a symbolic figure for Ireland itselt), whose difficult struggle to pronounce her own name "constitutes a powerful therapy, a set of imaginative exercises that give her [Ireland] a chance to...


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pp. 365-370
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