When We Were Wild

Charles Way
Cahoots NI
The Mac, Belfast

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John Paul Connolly as Pete Credit: Gorgeous Photography/Melissa Gordon
Ruairi Conaghan as Jim Credit: Gorgeous Photography/Melissa Gordon
Helen Foan (puppeteer) and Kyron Bourke (pianist) Credit: Gorgeous Photography/Melissa Gordon
Ruairi Conaghan, Iris Schmid, Kyron Bourke (seated), John Paul Connolly Credit: Gorgeous Photography/Melissa Gordon
Puppeteer Iris Schmid Credit: Gorgeous Photography/Melissa Gordon

Charles Way’s When We Were Wild is a thoughtful and timely parable for young and family audiences tempered by the winning charm of Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney’s intimate staging for Cahoots NI at Belfast’s The Mac.

A tale of two brothers once cloistered and close on the family farm, now grown up and apart, it is also a topical environmental polemic, an encouragement to its young spectators towards the wonders of the natural world around them, even if it is occasionally red in tooth and claw.

Way’s elliptical script never quite joins up all the dots to provide an immediately explicit message or moral, but it casts an enchanting and involving spell nonetheless. Playing for 55 minutes, it proves to be a surprisingly sophisticated and satisfying miniature.

John Paul Connolly and Ruairi Conaghan, veterans of the West End, Broadway, the RSC and National Theatre, are luxury casting as the siblings. Clinging to the family farm, reservoir of countless memories, Conaghan’s Jim finds a gruff poetry in the soil to which he is steadfastly rooted. Conscious of another world over the horizon, Connolly’s Pete departs to find a life elsewhere only to discover that he, too, is in debt to nature and the past. Their reconciliation following a catastrophic fire is written and played with touching understatement and is all the more poignant and persuasive for it.

The uncredited set—a bark-strewn floor betokening a fairy-tale wood, and a lonely piano doubling as a childhood wardrobe stuffed with memories waiting to be rediscovered—plays to Cahoots’ signature bending and blending of reality and fantasy. A notion inked in by Paul Hinchcliffe’s subtly evocative lighting cloaking proceedings in a hushed, crepuscular halo.

Helen Foan’s beautifully made puppets add their own indelible sense of magic and mystery to proceedings. She and fellow puppeteer Iris Schmid effortlessly steal scenes with each appearance of a cautious fox, a foraging badger, wild-eyed Collie and waddling ducklings. Two scenes stand out: the capture of a hapless field mouse by a predatory night-owl, and Jim’s first encounter with Pete’s two-year-old infant. Both are exquisitely realised, one with voyeuristic horror, the other with affecting tenderness.

Performed live and pre-recorded by Score Draw Music, Kyron Bourke’s mood-enhancing score—he also doubles as pianist and metamorphoses into a sly and knowing fox in human form—provides its own telling blend of lyricism, romance and drama.

Families with young children who have read Charles Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse will find much to be enthralled by and to enjoy in When We Were Wild.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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