As part of this weekend’s Galway Early Music Festival, Moonfish Theatre Company are presenting a new stage version of the famous old Irish saga, Mad Sweeney/Buile Shuibhne. The story relates how a cleric puts a curse of madness on the Ulster king Sweeney who, there after, spends his days roaming, bird-witted, through the treetops of Ireland, shunning human company and enduring nakedness, hunger and loneliness. At every stop in Sweeney’s flight through Ireland, he pauses to give a poem on the location and his plight, with his descriptions of the countryside and nature, as well as his pathos, being both vivid and moving.
Buile Shuibhne has proved a rich source of inspiration to artists down the years and has previously been addressed by the likes of Flann O’Brien, Brian Bourke, Seamus Heaney and Galway’s own, Macnas. So how have Moonfish gone about engaging with the story? Director/performer Mairead Ní Chroinin explains.“It’s very much a family show so it’s a retelling of the legend with that in mind. We had started working with shadow puppets for our last production, The Secret Garden, and we decided to use those techniques and develop them with Sweeney and see how we could tell the story using shadow and celtic imagery and so on. We’ve also entered a collaboration with Simon O’Dwyer and Maria Cullen O’Dwyer, who play Bronze Age Horns, and we’re working with them on the music for the show. There is also a storytelling element as well as the shadow puppetry. I think Sweeney is a really interesting study of madness and how madness was perceived in celtic times and how it was dealt with.”
Joining Moonfish in this production are Simon O’Dwyer and Maria Cullen O’Dwyer of Prehistoric Music Ireland who will provide music for the production on crafted Bronze Age reproduction horns. Mairead Ní Chroinin readily espresses her enthusiasm for their contribution to the production.“The music definitely adds a lot to the show. We’ve been writing the show while listening to Simon’s CD’s and we’ve been talking to him about what the different horns can do. I think it will be very interesting and very different; previously we’ve used music in quite a narrative way –with songs that have lyrics that carry you through the story- but here we’re going to be using music in a bit more of a primitive evocative way. It’s very much a sound-design, atmospheric kind of approach. I think it creates an interesting soundscape. These are sounds you don’t hear anymore, these are incredible instruments in terms of the sounds they create and it’s fascinating to have that as part of a theatre production.”
Moonfish’s production of Mad Sweeney features, as puppetteers, Orlagh de Bhaldraithe, Grace Kiely and Mairead Ní Chroinin, while Mairead’s father professor of history Daibhi O’Croinin, will make his stage bow as the storyteller.
Mad Sweeney will be presented this Saturday morning, May. 29, at 11 am upstairs in The King’s Head. Admission is free. Yes, free! So, go see.