A circus is about to roll into town, but don’t worry, no live animals will be hard in the making of the theatrical event of the Hallowe’en season. Cirque des Reves, a co-production from up-and-coming theatre companies Sickle Moon Productions and Illustrated Productions, opens in the Smock Alley Boys’ School Monday 26 October. A play about childhood fantasies gone awry, suitable for audiences from nine to ninety, Meg.ie packed our bags and ran away to join the circus as we sat down with Katie McCann, Jeda de Brí and Finbarr Doyle, the creative team behind Cirque des Reves.
So tell us, what is The Cirque Des Reves?
KATIE: The circus of dreams – it’s a play set in Victorian London and tells the story of Poppy Parker, a girl who like so many of us imagines that her life could be different. She has bigger dreams than the world around her, she wants to be bigger than she’s told she can be. So when one day a circus arrives in town she believes it might be the way of pursuing the life she’s always dreamed of. Little does she know though, that darkness lies underneath…
Where did you get your inspiration for this play?
KATIE: There were a lot of inspirations – it would have originated with my favourite stories as a child, Roald Dahl in particular was a storyteller I loved. His darkness and his richness of language always really excited me, and still does. Visually, people like Tim Burton would be a strong influence. That use of colour and style – it’s a visual feast as well as a great story. In terms of theatre, I really admire Les Enfants Terrible and Collapsing Horse – I love the style of their work and how they tell good stories. I just don’t see that enough in theatre, I don’t see the stories the way I like them to be told very often – with a little bit of magic and a little bit of the spectacular thrown in.
There are definitely a lot of childhood influences there, is this a show for all ages?
JEDA: It certainly is, that’s something that we wanted to do – create a show that appealed to adults and children on different levels. We had a preview in Katie’s old school in Wexford, with 200 kids and their parents in attendance. It was a fantastic night, both the kids and the parents took away something completely different from the story, like those classic films we grew up with – we watch these as kids and find in them so much comedy and joy, then you grow up and you experience the humour on a different level. It works both ways, that’s what we tried to do.
KATIE: I didn’t write it as a children’s play. It’s a play suitable for kids of nine years and older, we believe. As a child I was always drawn to darkness, I was obsessed with vampires and ghost stories, and I think there’s a darkness here that’s appealing to children, but it’s not a spooky story for kids. I wrote it for me and my peers. It was written for us to enjoy. But we quickly realized – there was a lovely revelation that maybe there was a wider audience for this story. And that was an interesting challenge to take on. It’s a very creative and challenging thing to tackle – children’s theatre companies are putting on some of the best theatre in Ireland and even Europe because they are engaging imaginations and asking more of their audiences.
JEDA: Children expect more from the theatre. They’re a very honest audience. It’s an amazing thing, to discover that you can’t pander to children.
KATIE: I love Pixar movies too. We all went to see Inside Out – it’s obviously, as an animation, designed to be for children, but when I went the audience was entirely adults and it connected to me as an adult. We took Pixar as an inspiration too, how they bridge that gap. It looks like a children’s story, but it’s as appealing to adults.
What does it take to build a circus?
KATIE: Pixie dust! This was a very unique experience in that, we decided early on that everyone involved would have an equal say in characters and story. We did multiple readings over six months to a year, where our cast and our designers and our creative team constantly gave feedback. It really took the whole team.
JEDA: Yeah, it takes a really good cast. Our cast are amazing, not just four actors but four complete imaginations, throwing everything at the wall. They’ll go to great lengths to truly make a spectacle. We’ve done a number of wonderful workshops on movement, voice, music, puppetry… We also have a fantastic crew on board to help to create this spectacle. The musical numbers, the puppetry, the twenty characters that the actors portray – it’s an enormous team effort between the cast and crew. The wonderful thing is watching it all come together. It’s come into its own.
KATIE: And as an actor, essentially your job is to get up and play, in the theatrical sense. But this show is ‘play’ in its purest form, it’s playful and requires you to give a lot of energy and focus. It’s a rare treat, and an absolute marathon.
FINBARR: I think a lot of theatre companies are grappling with the postmodern, or working in a way that’s very text-based. So the idea of playing – that’s what Cirque is all about. And we’re trusting the audience to go with that. I think both children and adults enjoy that kind of thing – playing dress up, playing make-believe. Kids do it now, adults did it once.
Sickle Moon Productions are known for dark explorations of the human psyche, Illustrated Productions have tackled child-friendly stories before. Now you are coming together to co-produce Cirque des Reves. How was the experience?
JEDA: The best thing about working with Katie and Illustrated is that we bring out the best in each other as companies. Sickle Moon like to talk about the darkness in individuals and how it feels to be alone. We’re interested in smaller, subtle stories. And Illustrated tackles bigger, more imaginative ideas that fascinate us. We find that darkness in them. It helps that the script is fantastic to work with.
KATIE: Fundamentally, it’s a partnership. I couldn’t do what Sickle Moon does, while they don’t work how I do –
JEDA: We complete each other!
KATIE: It’s true! It’s a balancing act. And it’s all about respect and support.
What can we expect from the Cirque des Reves – could you give us a sneak peek of some of the acts?
KATIE: We’ve tried to steer clear of the traditional circus. It’s not a traditional world. The circus itself is unusual – we’ve taken inspiration from vaudeville, like a travelling troop of performers. There are no live animals in the show!
Is there a future for Illustrated and Sickle Moon Productions?
JEDA: Absolutely! We’ve had so much fun working on this together. It’s already sparked so many new ideas – Sickle Moon and Illustrated will definitely work together again.
KATIE: Because of how the process has worked, this was a rare opportunity to allow two companies to create a show, rather than me writing in a room on my own. I’m like a vampire sucking creative juices out of a room – I don’t think I’ll be able to work any other way again.
JEDA: And that’s what leads to a really collaborative rehearsal room. We’re invested in everything to do with the show, from it’s very root.
KATIE: It’s not my show – it’s our show. It genuinely could not have happened without this team. It’s a real passion project for everyone. And we’re having enormous craic.
Venue: Smock Alley Theatre
Dates: October 25-31st @ 8PM (Matinee Saturday 31st @ 2:30PM)
Tickets: €8 – €12