Cahoots NI theatre company take on the Hound of Ulster
LISTEN to the man with the coolest name in NI theatre, Paul Bosco McEneaney
With Brad Pitt donning Achilles’ body armour for a rumble with the Trojans in Troy and a hip young Robin Hood storming the small screen for a romantic rendezvous with posterity on the BBC, it seems that there has never been a better time for resurrecting the mythological heroes of old.
As the historical-fiction sections of bookshops creak under the weight of a host of historical epics and Hollywood gears up for another year on the ancient battlefield, it seems that only our theatres have thus far steered clear of the ever popular testosterone effect, with the possible exception of that strange bimillenial hybrid that was I, Keano.
Enter Cahoots NI theatre company with their latest production for children, Cuchulain: The Hound of Ulster.
Written by Zoe Seaton and Paul Bosco McEneaney, Artistic Director at Cahoots NI, Cuchulain: The Hound of Ulster is the story of the undisputed heavyweight of Irish folklore, known in childhood as Setanta and in bloodstained glory as Cuchulain, the greatest of all the Red Branch knights.
Born in Newgrange, Co Armagh to Lugh, the Celtic God of Light and Deichtine, sister of king Conor MacNessa, Cuchulain was the most skilled and fearsome warrior in all of Ireland.
The legend goes that the young Setanta, on route to a party attended by king Conor, came across the watchdog of one Culann the Smith.
Unable to pass, Setanta killed the dog and thereafter became known as Cu Cuchulainn, which is Gaelic for ’Culann’s Hound’.
Honing his combat skills alongside the warrior women of Scathach on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Cuchullain returned to Ireland for the hand of Emer.
Armed with a barbed spear known as Gae Bulg, the 17-year-old Cuchullain single-handedly defended Ulster against the forces of Connacht in what became known as the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
As such, Cuchullain is revered by both Catholics and Protestants as a unique symbol of Ulster.
With a reputation for using striking visuals in their shows, Cahoots NI have adopted the use of specially commissioned video footage of the NI landscape to help bring the legend of Cuchulain to life.
Affixed with a strap line that reads ‘High jinx with heroes, heroines and a hound’, it’s clear that this modern incarnation also comes with a sense of humour.
Having collaborated on a number of Shakespearean projects for the English Creation Theatre Company, Seaton and McEneaney set about researching the legend of Cuchullain with a view to re-energising the story for a new generation of young NI theatre goers.
’Even today, if you go into a bookshop and try to find out about Cuchullain, the same story can be told in 50 different ways,’ reveals McEneaney.
‘So it was trying to identify which story we wanted to tell, and I guess, having read lots of literature on the subject, that Rosemary Sutcliffe’s book, The Hound of Ulster, was most accurate in what we wanted to reflect.
‘That was the story of Cuchulain and that of Ferdiad, his best friend, and the reality that Ferdiad and Cuchulain would one day have to fight each other. It’s a very Northern Irish story.'
To complement the experience of the Cuchulain production, Cahoots NI have also been running Create Your Own Superhero workshops with schools in which groups of children work together to devise and create their own superheroes.
Aided by a professional performer who will act out the various characters, children can then watch as their creations are brought to life by an illustrator.
The resulting characters devised by children from NI and Washington will be published in a specially commissioned book.
Such diversity is integral to the Cahoots NI philosophy of making theatre and the performing arts accessible to children in a range of ways.
Working in partnership with Arts Care - a charity organisation which aims to bring the arts into healthcare environments - Cahoots have also devised Bedside Theatre, a small show based around a tiny flea circus, designed to cater for sick children in hospital.
’Bedside Theatre has been one of those productions that has totally snowballed for us,’ McEneaney beams.
‘It’s a beautiful project. You might have a child going down to theatre in 20 minutes, and to see them sitting up in bed having a laugh watching the show is extremely rewarding.’
Cuchulain: Hound of Ulster is touring NI until until March 31, and plays in Washington, DC on April 6 & 7 on the Imagination Stage as part of the Rediscover NI programme.
Bedside Theatre will also play in Washington in hospitals throughout the capital.