'Twas the Night Before Christmas/Oíche Roimh an Nollaig

'Twas the Night Before Christmas/Oíche Roimh an Nollag by Branar Theatre Company

'Twas the Night Before Christmas/Oíche Roimh an Nollag by Branar Theatre Company

Branar Theatre Company's production of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

Branar Theatre Company's production of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

It was 1948, “the year of the great excitement”, the year electricity arrived in Ballybrack. Branar borrows from Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem to tell the story of one particular Christmas in the small rural town of Ballybrack. Unlike the poem, the town's excitement is not based upon the prospect of a visit from St. Nicholas, but is centred around the community of the town, its traditions, and its preparations for the coming of the electric Christmas lights “all the way from Dublin”. Mrs. Molloy has been giving Christmas candles to every household in the town for decades, but this year this tradition is threatened by the arrival of electricity. 

This is a Christmas unlike the one we know today. The focus is not on presents, on Santa Claus, or even on the story of the Nativity, but on family, community, and the peace Christmas brings. Branar's use of the Irish language in this bilingual play is interspersed in such a way that the young audience can understand its meaning, even if they don't understand the exact words, through the use of humour, puppetry and music.

The cast of five tells the story, jumping in and out when required, assuming several different characters and expertly transitioning between the interweaving storylines to create a large picture of life in Ballybrack. At the beginning, the cast enter one by one, each adding an instrument to the recurring theme (composed by Michael Chang). Taking it in turns to narrate different parts of the story, the actors comically appear to improvise on the spot and compete for different parts in the play. Jonathan Gunning's response to being dressed by the cast in hat and scarf and informed that he is the postman, exclaiming “No, I'm not playing him”, and the instructions to the actors playing Big and Peg to be “older”,  “no reeeally old” add fantastic comedy to the play. This Brechtian style is excellently executed by the talented and versatile cast, leaving the audience, both young and old, in stitches throughout the performance.

Miriam O'Donohue's costume design consists of browns and earthy colours, and an old Irish style of dress of lace-up boots, long skirts, waistcoats and woollen cardigans and jumpers. The set, designed by Olan Wrynn, is minimal, comprising of stacks of boxes covered in brown paper, one of which holds the instruments the cast return to throughout the play, and a ladder. This set, however, is deceptively basic, as the boxes are illuminated and transformed into the houses of Ballybrack, letters become snow-covered rooftops, and the town is adorned with Mrs. Carson's Christmas lights. Adam Fitzsimmons’ lighting design is perfectly married with the original music by Michael Chang in creating at particular moments a poignant sense of peace and suspense, magically conveying a true sense of Christmas.

Suse Reibisch’s puppets, and the masterful puppetry by the cast, add a special element of magic to the play. Director Marc Mac Lochlainn's decision to use puppets in the snowcapped rooftops of Ballybrack scene plays with perspective and adds humour to quite a poignant moment in Mrs. Molloy's story, while the audience falls instantly in love with the dog and all that he comes to represent.

This is an enchanting play.

Helen Cusack

  • Review
  • Theatre

'Twas the Night Before Christmas/Oíche Roimh an Nollaig by Branar Theatre Company

29 Nov- 22 December 2013

Produced by Branar Theatre Company
In Pavilion Theatre Dún Laoghaire

Devised by ensemble and scripted by Marc Mac Lochlainn

Directed by Marc Mac Lochlainn

Lighting Design: Adam Fitzsimmons

Set Design: Olan Wrynn

Costume Design: Miriam O'Donohue

Puppet Design: Suse Reibisch

Music composed by Michael Chang

Cast: Ionia Ní Chróinín, Helen Gregg, Maura Greaney Daly, Jonathan Gunning, Michael Chang

Audience: 5+