Enniskillen was the location of the inaugural festival. Upon arriving at the gorgeous Manor House Hotel in Killadeas, I was struck by the period residence’s faultless restoration to its original glory on grounds overlooking Lough Erne, dating back to the 17th century.
Dinner was delicious, and the portions generous, with wild salmon and fresh pasta served by a staff of very attentive waiters. During dinner, our party were introduced to the Happy Days festival, where its founder, Sean Doran, told us how it all began.
The seed for the idea was planted in his head to hold the festival in Enniskillen before he was even aware of the connection between the influential writer and the town. He said: “I didn’t know he went to Portora [Royal School] here, but I wanted the festival to be here. When I found out, it was happy days!”
Unlike other purely literary festivals, Sean wanted Happy Days to be more eclectic, and full of the spirit of Beckett’s influence, rather than just a few days of seeing his plays performed. With that in mind, he decided to mix in elements which resonated with Beckett’s legacy. Sean introduced sporting events, music and comedy into the programme; debates and talks by contemporary Irish and international writers, as well as Beckett pieces performed by small theatre companies and renowned actors.
The great melting pot of acts and performers at the five-day festival was a collective homage to Beckett’s work and influence in all artistic forms. The whole town of Enniskillen got into the spirit of the festival, with barber shops offering Beckett haircuts and delicatessens selling ham and clove sandwiches.
However, the undisputed highlight of the whole festival was Robert Wilson’s premiere of, Krapp’s Last Tape. On entering the lovely Ardhowen Theatre, I knew I was in for something mighty, judging by the calibre of punter around me.
From the moment the curtain came up, American avant-garde theatre-maker Robert Wilson, white-faced and utterly unique, mesmerised the audience. His portrayal introduced effective and symbolic elements, bringing the play to life with a strange bolt of electricity. The first thing Wilson did was to sit, as the sound effect of teeming rain flooded the theatre. He sat for so long, he pushed the boundaries of audience expectation to the outer limits. Then, he ate two bananas in a very stylised and ritualistic way, whilst looking at the audience with a world of conflicting emotions on his face. The whole performance was a joy to witness, and I felt blessed to have been there.
Everything Wilson does is his own, and heavy with meaning and symbolism; he is a born artist of the highest rate, and I know I’ll never see anything like him again. Not only was he a consummate performer on stage, but he used his primitive nature to great effect too. Now and then, as he listened to the tapes, a great primal noise would emanate from his distended clown-like mouth as he reacted in horror. Yet, the sound echoed that of the stop button on the tape recorder. This marriage of the sublime and the ridiculous was astonishingly original.
People left the show wearing blank, dazed expressions, and it was patently clear that Wilson had done the real job of a theatre maker – he had put us all through something amazing.
For further information on the Manor House Hotel, Killadeas, Enniskillen, see www.manorhousecountryhotel.com.