A sheep odyssey that’s perfect for pulling the wool over kids’ eyes
Sunday Business Post : 3rd March 2019
Mermaid Theatre, Bray, Co. Wicklow
Rating: * * * *
Have you hear of Woolly, “the greatest sheep that ever lived?” If not, let Branar Téatar do Pháistí enlighten you about this most unusual sheep, her distinctive fleece and the incredible journey she embarks upon in pursuit of her woolly coat, which has been taken from her in a bizarre ritual that she is driven to make sense of.
“Miquel Barcelo’s original music, which blends country blues and folksy rhythms for thematic effect…. was a key part of the production’s success”
Created for an aged-four-and-over audience by performers Helen Gregg, Miquel Barceló and Jonathan Gunning, in collaboration with director Marc Mac Lochlainn, Woolly’s Quest is a joyful and gentle introduction to sheep-shearing. The action takes place against the backdrop of Orla Clogher’s meticulously imagined barn, which offers various platforms and openings for the actors and puppets to perform on and play with. Elaine Mears’ costumes give us a trio of ovide oddities, with baggy fleeces and punky hairdos; just the right sort of ridiculous.
The play has an episodic structure, charing Woolly’s journey away from the farmstead in search of her fleece and her “true special purpose” in life. Along the way, she meets some helpful friends, also played by the ensemble. There is a rigid scarecrow who is so moved by Woolly’s story that he consents to be spun around, and some rams who encourage her to keep going despite the odds.
Of course, she also encounters some dangerous foes, a scary shadow-puppet wold and crows and dogs that are brought to life with incredible ingenuity by Suse Reisbech’s plastic bag puppets. The script makes room for occasional moments of pantomime silliness, too: never underestimate the desire for children to shout “He’s behind you!” at the stage.
“If the subject matter of Woolly’s Quest seems a bit obscure … its instructional value as spring arrives and lambing season begins should not be undervalued: my two, thoroughly urban, companions were totally enthralled. “
Miquel Barcelo’s original music, which blends country blues and folksy rhythms for thematic effect, is brought to the stage by an impressive array of traditional and improvised instruments, including an electric stringed hurl. The songs, in particular, quicken the pace of the unfolding action.
On the occasion of my viewing, spontaneous percussive accompaniment from an audience of four and five year olds made it clear that the music was a key part of the production’s success, holding the young audience’s attention for the 45-minute duration.
If the subject matter of Woolly’s Quest seems a bit obscure - the production processes of wool - its instructional value as spring arrives and lambing season begins should not be undervalued: my two, thoroughly urban, companions were totally enthralled. Children from rural backgrounds, meanwhile, will surely appreciate seeing aspects of farming life on stage.
The Mermaid was Woolly’s first stop on a national tour, and you can see it this week at Axis Ballymun and the Linenhall in Castlebar, before the sheep continue their countrywide journey until the end of April.
For full venue details, see www.branar.ie