'When you work with puppetry the detail is paramount'

Branar director Marc Mac Lochlainn on The Way Back Home

YOUNG PLAY-goers in Galway are in for a treat when Branar Téatar and Denmark’s Theatre Refleksion bring their captivating version of Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home to the Black Box Theatre this Saturday and Sunday at 1pm and 3pm.

When a boy discovers a single-propeller aeroplane in his closet, he does what any young adventurer would do: he flies into space. Millions of miles from earth, the engine begins to falter and the boy makes a daring landing on the moon. There he meets an alien whose space-ship has also crashed. They do not know how to communicate, but find a way to solve each other’s problems and help each other get back home.

The show, which explores the boundless imagination of children through puppetry and music, is co-directed by Branar’s Marc MacLochlainn and Refleksion’s Bjarne Sondberg and, over a Monday afternoon chat, MacLochlainn told me how they had come to work on it.

The Way Back Home is part of a trilogy of Jeffers’ early books, along with Lost and Found and How to Catch a Star, which all feature this little boy with a stripy jumper who has all these adventures, most of which are in his imagination,” he reveals. “When Bjarne Sondberg was here in 2009 working on a show we were doing, I gave him a gift of The Way Back Home because we share an interest in illustrated books. Bjarne then got interested in the story and asked would we be interested in co-producing a version of it and it went from there.”

MacLochlainn reveals that getting Oliver Jeffers’ blessing for their adaptation was somewhat tricky.

“He was initially very dubious about giving the theatre rights because he had given them out freely before but people were making horrible versions of the stories," he says. "It was a two year process for us to get the rights. All along we were sending images and short videos of what we were doing with the story. When we did the show in London he first sent along his family and then his agent to check it out and, once they were happy, he finally came to see it himself. He was nervous it wouldn’t be what he wanted it to be, but he told us it was very interesting to see the ideas we had gone with were all things he had played around with himself when he was doing the book. He said our version restored his faith in theatre, so it was great to get that feedback from him.”

How would MacLochlainn describe the artistic rapport between himself and Bjarne Sandborg?

“We get on very well in the rehearsal room,” he replies. “It’s a really interesting relationship in that both of us aesthetically find the same things pleasing. When you are working with puppetry the detail is paramount. There is so much detail in 40 minutes that having two pairs of eyes watch something gives you more space to study the overall narrative. We work well together in that sense and there is very little artistically we disagree on."

The show features a live score by Henrik Andersen. As MacLochlainn points out, both Branar and Refleksion like to use original music in their work.

“Henrik had composed for Refleksion before and came in to compose a soundtrack to go along with this piece," MacLochlainn says. "Because it has no language the music is an essential element. You could say that, along with the movement, the music is the language of the piece. The soundtrack is quite subtle and perfectly evokes the idea of space – most of the story happens on the way to space or on the moon.”

Featuring performers Neasa Ní Chuanaigh and Apo Reppo, with set and puppet design by Mariann Aagaard, On The Way Home is suitable for those aged four to eight. The Baboró festival is the play’s associate producer.

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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