Children's theatre company Branar, in association with the Abbey Theatre, will perform their new play, The Table, in the Town Hall Theatre between Tuesday February 14 and Saturday February 18.
Branar has a track record of creating amazing arts experiences of international stature. Galway audiences will have an opportunity to see this new production, which is about the Irish Civil War, before it transfers to The Peacock stage in Dublin for the company’s National Theatre debut.
For Branar’s first time working with a writer (they mostly devise scripts as a company ), they chose Galway based playwright and screenwriter, Christian O'Reilly. A long time admirer of Branar, Christian welcomed the challenge. He says: "I have been a fan of Branar's work for years and have brought my two kids to see their work. After one show in particular, I approached Marc (Mac Lochlain, Branar's artistic director ) and told him I loved their work, and jokingly said I'd love to write a play for them one day. A couple of years later, Marc gave me a shout and we met for coffee. We chatted about the idea for a play about the Civil War which would use the metaphor of a table. He asked me if I would be interested in writing it and working with them and I jumped at the opportunity immediately."
How was the process of working with Branar and developing the play? Christian says: "It's been a really thrilling process and very enjoyable. We brainstormed ideas first around possible stories we could attach to this metaphor. We were trying to marry the challenge of working with actual history and then also working with original characters so that it all felt very organic as opposed to contrived. There's a danger of forcing the metaphor, and forcing the characters to behave a certain way, which we never wanted. You have to get the balance right. We held several workshops involving Branar's actors, during which we interrogated the idea over and over. After each workshop, Marc and I would meet and talk it all out. This allowed me to go away and write another draft of the script, and so that was the process we continued with."
Discussing the play's plot in more detail, Christian says: "The Table is about the Ó Flatharta family, who are the guardians of a very sacred table that was once a tree many years ago. After an invasion by a force who took over everything, built houses everywhere, charged rent and ultimately cut down their tree, they found a way to keep it alive - by turning it into a table. As guardians of the table, they carry it everywhere they go. Broadly speaking, the family eventually lose possession of the table and they're offered a deal for its return. This deal splits the family in two.
"While there is no time period specified in regards to when the play is set, it's a way of exploring the Irish Civil War for young people. The table itself is also a kind of store for the family's musical instruments. They're very musical. We were interested in the idea that the table houses the culture of this family and of the local people, and in a broader sense, the nation." Christian and the team in Branar were eager for the play to demonstrate Ireland's incredibly rich, long-standing and deeply emotional link with language and music - not just through dialogue. He says: "Music is such an important part of our culture, and it can help to get across what it means to be Irish or what it means to be wherever you're from. It features prominently in the play, in fact it's at the heart of the play. The music is by Michael Chang (Galway based composer ), who is amazing."
What is it like for Christian to develop a piece of theatre for children compared to writing something for adults? "In a way, it's the same sort of process," he says. "You're still trying to tell a story. You're still trying to write characters that are really defined and three-dimensional. All of all of those things are applicable I think.
When you're writing something for children about a subject as devastating and violent as Civil War, you do need to find some way to lighten the mood, and make it palatable and enjoyable. One of our characters in the play is a chicken who's name is Seamus. He becomes very invested in the family's dispute, which hopefully is quite enjoyable to watch. I was anxious about that prospect of writing for children. I really wanted to write something for my own kids to enjoy as well. I trusted Marc because he has that experience of making work for kids, and he knows innately what will work and what won't."
Theatre is such an enjoyable medium to learn from, to extend our imaginations with and to get lost in. Does Christian think it's important for children to be exposed to theatre from a young age? He says: "I think it's important to make work for kids and to tell them stories, and to give them a way through these stories of making sense of the world. Theatre is primary for adults in Ireland. Educationally, and in terms of creativity, it's very important for kids to have the opportunity to go to plays and and see how stories can be told and to see the kind of magic that's possible theatrically. It shows kids the whole spectrum of ways of communicating and hopefully reflects realities that they can relate to."
The Table will be performed at the Town Hall Theatre between Tuesday February 14 and Saturday February 18.
Get your tickets here: www.tht.ie/3936/the-table