(Richard Pine’s article appeared in The Guardian, 10/2/2015: via Charles.)
When asked why he had two birth certificates, one dated 9 January 1929 and the other 10 January, the Irish playwright Brian Friel, who has died aged 86, replied: “Perhaps I’m twins.” The reaction was typical of a writer acclaimed for the clarity, economy and intensity of his language and his probing of public and private anxieties. Living at various times on either side of the Irish border, he was preoccupied with aspects of dualism: divided loyalties, tensions between fathers and sons, the two languages and the island’s two political states.
Friel nevertheless remained an intensely private person in the family home, increasingly reluctant to assume a public role. The Freedom of the City (premiered in Dublin and subsequently directed at the Royal Court by Albert Finney) was the only direct foray by Friel as a playwright into the world of politics. It was a reaction to the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, when 13 civilians were shot dead by British soldiers during a civil rights march in Derry; a 14th died later; Friel himself was one of the marchers. The whitewash presented in the resulting Widgery report outraged nationalist opinion. Subsequently Friel was often criticized – mainly sotto voce – for his reluctance to write further plays on similar themes.
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