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George Farquhar The First Ulster-Scots...

28 July 2009

The name of George Farquhar is one that is very familiar in theatre circles across the world, but perhaps not so well known within his own Ulster-Scots community!

Born in Londonderry in 1677, Farquhar went on to become one of the most popular writers of the Restoration period and his work is still produced at theatres of the highest standing today, such as The National Theatre and Royal Court in London, as well as The Abbey, the national theatre of the Republic of Ireland, in Dublin.

 

One company in particular is very dedicated to producing and staging his work, and that is the Londonderry-based production company – Blue Eagle Productions. The company had previously produced Farquhar’s final play “The Beaux Stratagem” in 2005 at The Church of Ireland Diocesan Office in Londonderry, this venue being chosen and adapted for this production due to it being the site of the first theatre in Londonderry, between 1790 and 1832.

 

The company followed this up with the production of “The Blue Eagle George Farquhar Theatre Festival”, which staged all seven plays of Farquhar’s, three in full production and the other four as rehearsed readings in various venues throughout Londonderry in 2008.

 

Blue Eagle, which will be a name familiar throughout the Ulster-Scots community for producing the touring theatre show “Fair Faa Ye”, as well as living history productions telling the stories of The Ulster Covenanters and The Siege of Derry, is once again gearing-up for another Farquhar production, this time, his first play “Love And A Bottle”, written in 1698. The company, as for the Farquhar Festival in 2008, have been very fortunate to be able to avail of the support of The Ulster Scots Agency and the company is grateful and encouraged that the Agency’s commitment to the first Ulster-Scot to have an enduring voice in world theatre.

 

“Love And A Bottle”, tells the story of Roebuck, a roving Irish gentleman, who has fled to London, hotly pursued by Trudge, the mother of his son. Unknown to him, his true love, Leanthe, has disguised herself and is posing as a Page in Lucinda’s household. Lucinda, though, is having ‘man-trouble’ of her own, suspecting Roebuck’s friend, Lovewell, of being false in his protestations of love to her. The arrival of Squire Mockmode, who has come to London to court Lucinda, the scheming of his friend Lyrick and the continuous pursuit of love and romance by masters and servants, mistresses and maids ensures that everyone gets their just deserts, but will it be their hearts desire?

As is the tradition of time, the plays were comedies of manners, of social intrigue and the customs of the day. The play was written by Farquhar when he was only 20, and it is the commonly held belief that the play is a largely autobiographical account of the young Ulster-Scot’s impressions upon arriving in London 1698.

“Love And A Bottle” opened at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane in December 1698 and was received well by its audiences. This set Farquhar on the his way and the next nine years yielded a further six plays, an after-play, a novella and countless poems, miscellanies and letters.

It is evident the impact that his life in Ulster had left him with and he drew upon his experiences for his work. It is worth pointing out that Farquhar had been inside the Walls of Londonderry during the Siege in 1689 and the following year, had served with William’s army at The Boyne, both these events occurring before he was 13 years old. The impact of The Boyne was demonstrated in his poem entitled “On the Death of General Schomberg Kill’d at The Boyne” (sic) where he speaks of the great impression made upon him by the famous Williamite general:-

“Gods! How he stood

All terrible in Bloud

Stopping the Torrent of his Foes,

And Current of the Floud” (sic)

 

Blue Eagle Productions is seeking to bring the Farquhar’s work more to the forefront of Ulster-Scots cultural activity and “Love And A Bottle” is being timed to coincide with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to Farquhar at The Verbal Arts Centre in Londonderry, by The Ulster Historical Circle. Although Farquhar was a native of the city, little is known about his early life and there are very few places within the city where it can definitely be said he was. One place though was the Free Grammar School within the city, which still exists today as Foyle & Londonderry College, the site of the original school was in the Society Street area, within a few yards of The Verbal Arts Centre, (formerly 1st Derry Presbyterian Church School). It was also felt a fitting tribute that the Blue Plaque would face onto the Walls at the Double-Bastion at the top of Grand Parade, again as a tribute to the boy-defender of the city. The Ulster-Scots Agency, along with the Arts Council and Verbal Arts Centre are delighted to support the on-going work of Blue Eagle Productions in delivering important work from the Ulster-Scots canon.

 

The company has further demonstrated its commitment to the developing arts activity in the community by including several amateur players in the production with the main roles being comprised of professionals from Londonderry and Donegal. “Love And A Bottle” is directed by Jonathan Burgess and will run from Tuesday 25th until Thursday 27th August at 8pm in The Verbal Arts Centre, Bishop Street, Londonderry. The production previews on Monday 24th August. Box Office for the production is through the Verbal Arts Centre on 028 7126 6946 and tickets are priced at £9 & £6 Concessionary. Preview – All tickets £5. For further information on Farquhar and Blue Eagle Productions, visit www.blueeagleproductions.co.uk.