Bringing a little bit of magical realism across the country
After years of restless experimentation, Blue Raincoat Theatre has found its niche, writes SARA KEATING
Niall Henry, the artistic director of Blue Raincoat Theatre, is refreshingly upbeat about the challenges of taking the company’s experimental adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth to the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, where it opened last week.
The work premiered last year at the Factory Performance Space, the company’s 100-seater home in Sligo, but the transition to a city venue more than twice its size has gone relatively smoothly. “The biggest difficulty was having to deal with a cast change,” says Henry. Yet the act of moving from Sligo’s small theatre culture to the capital is not as simple as packing up your set and sending it across the country.
Blue Raincoat was founded in Sligo in 1991 after Henry returned from eight years in France to form a theatre company in his native town, with writer Malcolm Hamilton. Henry had been studying and working with mime artist Marcel Marceau.
“It got to a point where I was thinking about the future, and I was looking around at older, English-speaking actors and what opportunities there might be,” he says. “I thought, ‘Do I want to be looking for work or do I want to work?’ And that was when I decided to come home.”
The early years were dominated by restless experimentation with classic texts and producing new work, he says, but it “took a while for us to find out what type of work we wanted to do”.
Despite some minor critical successes, Henry admits their early work was hit and miss, but they were lucky enough to get a grant under the Arts Council’s Regularly Funded Organisations programme, which guaranteed funding for three years. “We thought we probably would not get the opportunity for regular funding again, so we wanted to use the time and money as best as we could. We did as much new work as we could churn out in three years, and it was full-on research. One production would work; the next one wouldn’t. It was then that we began to find our niche.”
With The Poor Mouth, the third in a trilogy of Flann O’Brien works adapted by Jocelyn Clarke, the company has come into its own. Henry is reluctant to categorise the work but suggests that “magic realism on stage” comes closest to describing their aesthetic. It is unapologetically experimental, but Henry insists that, despite the smaller audience pool in Sligo, they have a loyal audience for their work.