One of the nation’s leading lights in children’s theatre, Branar Téatar do Pháistí, are currently touring their new Christmas show, Twas The Night Before Christmas.
Featuring Branar’s trademark mix of storytelling, live music, puppetry and physical theatre, the new show is inspired by the traditional Christmas poem of the same name.
“The thing I love about that poem is the sense of anticipation of what the next morning will bring,” says Marc Mac Lochlainn, the company’s artistic director. “I wanted to see if I could bring that wonder into a play, so our show is set in a fictional town in the year 1948 and it’s the first year that the town will have electricity for Christmas. So that’s the big build-up in the show — to see how magical the place will look when that happens. We have lovely little moments where the set is transformed. There are little parcels left onstage that eventually light up and turn into the houses in the village.”
For over a decade Branar have produced such moments of magic for children aged five and upwards. There’s a deceptive simplicity to the company’s aesthetic. “The hardest thing to do is make something that is simple,” says Mac Lochlainn. “But children really appreciate it when you take something simple, then turn it sideways and make it becomes something else. Every day they get to see shows with the best blue screen effects and animatronics on TV, but simple, live, animated shadow puppetry draws far more awe from a young audience.”
Mac Lochlainn is a former teacher who abandoned the job to focus on children’s theatre. “To be part of a live theatrical experience is as big an educational moment for any childas anything in the classroom,” he says.
In addition to regular performances, Branar often perform at schools and conduct workshops with children. Though their shows are often told in both Irish and English, in recent years the company has minimised verbal content in favour of music, physical theatre, and puppetry.
“The shows have become more an emotional or a physical story rather than a verbal story. Mac Lochlainn. You can’t presume that every child will interact with a story on a verbal level. Some kids read body language better than they’ll listen to you speak. Or they’ll understand through music or through movement. I try to ensure that there is a way into the show for every child.”
The new year promises to be busy. Having been made the theatre artist in residence in Mary Immaculate College, Branar will present a new show, Bláth, at the Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, in the spring. They’re also touring recent hit, Spraoi, to London’s South Bank Centre, and later in 2014 will debut a new co-production with Danish company Teater Refleksion. Whatever about the nights before Christmas, the nights after it look like they’ll be long ones.
* Twas The Night Before Christmas tours to Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Dec 13-14; the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire, Dec 16; Draiocht, Blanchardstown, Dec 17-18; and An Taibhdhearc, Galway, Dec 20-22. www.branar.ie