This year sees the 100th anniversary of Brian Moore’s birth year and the
Paradosso Theatre Group will be honouring his legacy, writes Noel McAdam
As a child, Mary Lindsay never read the boxset of Brian Moore books on her father’s shelves.
Then decades later, she was mystified that this once most internationally recognised of Belfast-born authors appeared to have been all but forgotten, even in his hometown.
Now, years later again, she is heading up a weeklong festival of events to mark the centenary of Moore’s birth.
Relaxations of restrictions means it could become the first literary festival to take place both in and out of doors — towards the end of August.
The Lonely Passions festival is named after Moore’s first and still most famous novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, which is set in Belfast — although the film version, starring Dame Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins, was made in Dublin.
Although it was also the first book that the younger Mary finally got to read, it was a BBC documentary from the 1970s — called The Lonely Passion of Brian Moore — which finally got her immersed in the man and his fiction.
“It inspired me to borrow that boxset of books (which I have kept to this day — sorry, Dad). The first book I read was Judith Hearne and that was it, I was hooked!” Mary says.
“The beauty of Brian Moore’s books is that you don’t have to read for pages and pages to get in to the story, you are there immediately.”
Other documentaries as well as films of other Moore novels — Catholics, The Temptation of Eileen Hughes and The Statement — will be among the many events which the Belfast Telegraph can also confirm will include:
n A Moore walking tour from North to South Belfast lead by the writer and producer Hugh Odling-Smee including childhood locations and places featured in the novels;
n live recitals of some of the most popular novels on a ‘pop up’ basis across Belfast;
n a panel debate on Moore’s legacy, his use of strong female characters and love/hate relationship with Belfast;
n an interview with Canadian literary historian Brian Busby about Moore’s early ‘pulp fiction’ novels before Judith Hearne;
n a reading of a stage adaptation of his novel set in Belfast during World War Two, The Emperor of Ice Cream, which was last staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1977, and
n a live evening of music and readings at The American Bar — with other plans, some involving special guests, still being finalised.
Renowned actor Stephen Rea, it was hoped, was to finish off the festival with a special reading, but he is unavailable.
“Stephen is filming in Europe during the dates of the festival and therefore unable to take part but we are progressing with other names and hope the event will be equally as special,” Mary says.
Organising the festival, which will finish around Moore’s actual birthday on August 25, has proven a major set of hurdles and handicaps for Mary and her co-director Vittoria Caffola.
Obtaining the rights to be able to use many of the texts was a laborious process, involving lawyers based in New York, dusted down archives in Canada — where Moore first went to live from Belfast — and long-lost documentation.
Mary and Vittoria have worked together for about 15 years on a number of different productions and four years ago set up the Paradosso Theatre group.
“We first talked about adapting The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore back in 2014 and had already started to research adaptation rights so this was a natural first project for Paradosso to begin focus on,” Mary says. “We definitely didn’t realise at that time what a task we had undertaken and how difficult it would be to secure the rights. We have spent a lot of time investigating and tracking down the rights owners and have worked very hard to get to this point.
“We are both fans of Brian Moore’s work and were always perplexed as to why there was little mention of him amongst the great writers from Northern Ireland. It seemed that he had been forgotten about particularly in his hometown of Belfast.”
But even after all the formalities of rights and access were over — with Moores’ widow, his second wife, Jean, giving the project her personal blessing — along came the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was fortuitous that Brian Moore’s centenary fell this year. We also both have experience in events management and arts festivals and so the idea for the festival was born!”
The Arts Council stumped up £23,000 although further sponsorship is still being pursued with possible emergency support.
“This has been a very difficult year for all sectors and organisations but particularly arts and culture and we are very grateful for the support we have received to date. We will continue to look for further funding,” Mary says.
And Vittoria added: “It certainly would have been a shame if nothing had been done to mark his centenary.”
“I would without a doubt place him high on the list of the greatest Irish/ Northern Irish writers, past and present — Flann O’Brien, John McGahern, Roddy Doyle and Anna Burns,” says Mary.
“Brian Moore has a depth of understanding and empathy towards his main protagonists and doesn’t shy away from all sides of human nature, the good, the bad, the ugly, exploring the many facets of the human mind and how experiences through life can shape us as well as hold us trapped.”
For more info on the August Centenary Festival follow Paradosso on twitter @Paradosso_NI or email: firstname.lastname@example.org