Thursday 30 March 2017

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Branar taking Broadway by storm

Wednesday, 15th March, 2017 1:00am

Galway children’s theatre company Branar, together with Denmark’s Teatre Refleksion, last week began a new staging of their acclaimed adaption of the children’s book ‘The Way Back Home’ on New York’s Broadway, ahead of a string of shows across the US this summer.

Since 2014, over 15,000 people have seen the show across 9 different countries, including a sell-out run at Baboró International Arts Festival for Children in Galway in 2014.

An adaption of Oliver Jeffers’ beloved book, The Way Back Home last week had its American premiere in The New Victory Theatre, New York’s leading children’s theatre located on Broadway.

The puppetry show stars Apo Reppo and Spiddal native Neasa Ní Chuanaigh, who admits that it’s very hard to keep the attention of children. “They are the hardest audience to please!” She adds that catering to specific age groups is important. “What suits a 3 year old won’t hold the attention of a 6 year old so it is quite a challenge.”

Adapted and directed for the stage by Branar Artistic Director Marc Mac Lochlainn and Teatre Refleksion’s Bjarne Sandborg, ‘The Way Back Home’ tells the story of a boy who discovers an airplane in his cupboard, and, of course, flies into outer space, befriending an alien there.

The author of the book, Oliver Jeffers, admitted in a New York Times interview that while his work takes shape in many different forms, the live theatre stage never occurred to him until he saw Branar’s piece, when he “could see the potential, the inner beauty of what you could do there”.

Neasa, too, found it difficult to adapt from page to stage. “One image and one sentence can say so much but then you have to transform that into action for theatre! We added quite a bit ourselves and we were quite nervous showing it to Oliver but he thanked us for understanding the theme and being true and loyal to the book at the same time,” she says.

The fluent Irish speaker, who has worked with Branar since 2011, is an actor by trade and explains that puppeteers don’t need to get into character in the same way that actors do. “It’s more getting the right energy for the right puppet - which takes a lot of focus and concentration. I’ve about 11 puppets, between objects and characters, in total but my main character is the Alien, who is clumsy and upset but meets the boy and they become great friends.”

Neasa first had the opportunity to work with Branar when she finished her acting training six years ago, and has been hooked ever since. “Marc, the Artistic Director, is an amazing puppeteer and he began training us. Then I worked with other companies and learned about different styles as I worked. Fíbín Theatre Company also held a great training course for puppeteering for television which I was lucky to attend.”

Neasa has toured the world with ‘The Way Back Home’ since it began, including England, Denmark, Norway, Austria, France, Poland, Sweden and two separate tours in Japan. After Broadway, the tour is headed to Texas, Arizona, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Minnesota. And Branar is taking on the world with other work this week also, staging ‘Spraoi’ in Seville, Spain.

“I would have never thought two years later we’d still be performing it,” says Neasa of ‘The Way Back Home’. “I didn’t even expect to be working in Denmark as I have been,” adding that the Danish have a great puppetry culture.

She hopes Branar may be able to bring the show back to Galway in future, along with an adaptation of another Oliver Jeffers book, ‘How to Catch a Star’. “We’d love to bring the two of them together to Galway,” says Neasa.

For more on children’s theatre company Branar Téatar do Pháistí, visit www.branar.ie.

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