Brave sheep on mission in Branar’s latest show

Miquel Barcelo, Helen Gregg and Jonathan Gunning in Woolly's Quest.
Miquel Barcelo, Helen Gregg and Jonathan Gunning in Woolly's Quest.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Director Marc Mac Lochlainn becomes so animated when describing the evolution of Woolly’s Quest, the latest show from Branar Téatar do Pháistí, that you have an urge to go see it instantly. That’s as an adult.  But while adults won’t be turned away, this show about a sheep who’s unhappy at being shorn and the disappearance of her fleece, is for children aged between four and 10 years.

Woolly’s Quest, a bilingual show with music from the Galway company, premiered last year in Kildare’s Riverbank Arts Centre and then toured, mostly to schools. It has now been revived for a 12-venue Irish tour and is in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre from Thursday to Saturday, March 21-23.

“We’ve taken it back and re-looked at it, and it’s almost like a different show,” explains Marc. “There was nothing wrong with the original but this is better.”

Marc and the performers, Jonathan Gunning, Helen Gregg and Miquel Barcelo, felt they needed to put more focus on Woolly’s quest this time out.

“We wanted to make sure we were being true to the little sheep,” he says. “Last time, we might have become side-tracked at times by a song or another character.”

So, he and the three actors interrogated the piece, until they were happy that their audiences wouldn’t be left with any loose ends.

This mix of mad creativity followed by a disciplined revision process, also involved fellow performer and dramaturg Eileen Gibbons, who advised on plot and character.  It’s a lot of work, but Branar has always had huge respect for its audience since Marc, formerly a teacher, set it up 18 years ago.

He explains how they ensure that every show is layered in order to make it accessible and entertaining for a relatively wide age group – there’s music, there are visuals including puppets, and there are words.

And evolution. Woolly’s Quest started off as a different idea, he says. Marc wanted to create something about a piece of wool that didn’t want to join the family business by becoming part of a hat or scarf. He thought it might make a book, but after a week of workshopping with Branar performers and musicians, they felt it would be perfect for theatre.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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