Say cheese! The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy

BABORÓ IS currently in full swing, delighting and bewitching young and old alike, and it continues until this Sunday, October 19. Among the weekend highlights is The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, from Australia’s Slingsby Theatre Company.

Cheeseboy tells the story of a boy made of cheese whose home planet (also made of cheese ) is obliterated by a passing meteorite, reducing his home and his parents to a bubbling fondue. Waking up on Earth, Cheeseboy struggles to come to terms with being alone.

Through his adventures with travelling gypsies, and his discovery of his ability to fly when he eats cheese on earth, our hero eventually understands that although he is alone in the universe, by knowing who he is and where he came from, he is capable of having a beautiful and adventurous life.

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy has thrilled audiences world-wide since its premiere in Adelaide in 2008, it has been performed 240 times in 40 locations, including Singapore, Madrid, Edinburgh, and New York, winning rave reviews along the way. It now makes its first visit to Ireland and, over a Saturday afternoon phonecall, Slingsby’s artistic director Andy Packer took time to tell me about the show, beginning by outlining the artistic vision which drives Slingsby’s work;

“We make work for audiences that includes adults as well as children aged eight and up,” he begins. “Children around that age are moving out of the zone of childhood where everything seems happy. They are starting to experience some of the challenges that we struggle with for the rest of our lives, things like ‘How do I live with myself?’, ‘How do I live with other people?’. Our goal is to make theatre that acknowledges that but ultimately reminds people of the wonder and positivity of the universe. We’re trying to make hopeful, uplifting work and I think that’s done best by also acknowledging the shadows in our lives as well.”

I ask about the inspiration behind Cheeseboy. “There were three points of inspiration,” he replies. “The first was film-maker Tim Burton who did this book called The Melancholic Death of Oyster Boy which is a series of little sketches of anti-heroes, little characters who have challenges - one is Stainboy who keeps staining his super-costume - and I was attracted to that idea that sometimes our greatest abilities are also the very things we struggle with.

“Another inspiration was Aristotle’s Poetics in which he wrote down the classic tragic structure of ancient Greek theatre and we used that as the structure of Cheeseboy. The third inspiration was Superman. Like Cheeseboy he is separated from his parents and sent to Earth and his story also follows the classic Greek structure interestingly enough. I was attracted to cheese because I love cheese and am a bit of an amateur cheesemaker myself!”

While Andy devised the concept of the play he then handed his synopsis over to Finegan Kruckemeyer who did the script. “It’s one thing to have a load of ideas and another to render them into a beautiful script,” he observes. “Without Finegan’s contribution we wouldn’t have such a beautiful play.”

How does Packer account for the play’s huge impact on audiences? “I think it’s because it’s an unusual yet emotional story,” he observes. “Also, the music, the quality of performance and the whole design, it’s a very cohesive piece of theatre. The audience sit in what is essentially a little tent and there is projection and lighting on the ceiling of the tent so it’s a very enveloping kind of world.

“The music is composed by Quincy Grant and it’s very beautiful. It’s a combination of all of those things; a strange story, beautiful language, really fine performances by Rory Walker and Sam McMahon, lovely design. It really is a show where people get transported into a different world which I think is the job of theatre, to allow us to leave ourselves for a little while and hopefully return to ourselves at the end of the show feeling more empathetic for ourselves and the people around us.”

The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy is performed in Seapoint, Salthill tomorrow (10am and 12 noon ), Saturday (2pm and 4pm ), and Sunday (2pm and 4pm ). For tickets see www.baboro.ie

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