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  • Chris ORourke

Woolly's Quest

Woolly's Quest. Image by Anita Murphy


A Woolly Experience

Woolly, the curious sheep, is getting ready to set off on a brave and dangerous quest. She might have to face some ill wishing crows, a dangerous dog, a too solid scarecrow and the goats of the forest, but Woolly won’t give up till she finally finds her fleece. In Branar’s delightfully charming “Woolly’s Quest,” a bi-lingual tale of the little sheep that can delivers some wonderful highs in both Irish and English. Yet if “Woolly’s Quest” does enough to keeps its young audience amused, it doesn’t always rock the flock, being often a shake of a lambs tail away from doing so.

Steeped in a Lambert Theatre, Wanderly Wagon styled aesthetic, “Woolly’s Quest” might well appeal to a more mature audience as well as to its targeted younger audience. Yet its retro charm comes at something of a price. Performatively, its reliance on old school, pantomime physicality proves surprisingly limiting and unimaginatively predictable, something Elaine Mears smart costumes offsets somewhat. A cartoonish farm yard by Orla Clogher shows a little more inventiveness, as does the electric hurley which is a stroke of genius. Performers Helen Gregg, Miquel Barcelo and Jonathan Gunning deliver invested performances with some on-point songs, well timed gags, and delightful visuals. Throughout, Gregg impressively handles most of the vocals demands with Barcelo carrying the lions share of instrumentation in songs, soundtrack, and sound effects.

Woolly's Quest. Image by Anita Murphy

While director Marc Mac Lochlainn does a solid enough job for the most part, he often fails to get to grips with some unnecessary confusion. Pitched at audiences of 4+, several references (including shears and potholes) pass over its youthful audience’s heads, who make no bones about saying aloud the things they don’t always understand. Visually, the flock of three performers surrounding a supposedly flock-less Woolly, represented by an inanimate toy (a stretch to call it a puppet), looks a little confusing. Most importantly, the hungry, young audience, eager and ready to engage, often erupting in spontaneous outbursts of clap-along during songs, are never truly invited to participate. Instead they sit, wait, and spectate when they obviously want to roar, sing, and shout, which they enthusiastically do every chance they get. Were the company to devise some additional moments of direct audience inclusion, and clarify some unclear details, they could well be on to a serious winner with “Woolly’s Quest.”

One important aside. For many young children this will be their first trip to a theatre. Many of whom will be accompanied by adults. If, as happened at this performance, an adult blatantly ignores instructions to switch off their phone and selfishly insists on checking it throughout the performance, in this case a teacher being watched by a sea of impressionable young students, do everyone a favour - stay at home. The young audience, your fellow adults who modelled the correct behaviour by switching off their phones, as well as the hard-working cast deserve better. No one wants to see your phone. Or you, should you take it out. Young people remember what they see, not what you say. So don’t let them see you on your phone.

“Woolly’s Quest” by Branar in association with Riverbank Theatre, ran at the Axis Theatre Ballymun on March 6 before continuing on its national tour.

For more information on venues and dates, visit Branar.

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