Blátha Bána (White Blossoms)

Una Kirwan in the Graffiti Theatre Company production 'Blátha Bána - White Blossoms'. Photo: Ger FitzGibbon

Una Kirwan in the Graffiti Theatre Company production 'Blátha Bána - White Blossoms'. Photo: Ger FitzGibbon

Una Kirwan in the Graffiti Theatre Company production 'Blátha Bána - White Blossoms'. Photo: Ger FitzGibbon

Una Kirwan in the Graffiti Theatre Company production 'Blátha Bána - White Blossoms'. Photo: Ger FitzGibbon

Three years ago, Graffiti Theatre Company, the educational theatre company based in Cork, began work on a play for young children aged eighteen months to three years. The process of creating a piece of work with which tiny children would engage in non-interactive fashion – Blátha Bána is meant to be watched in relative silence – took this length of time and involved Graffiti researching the work of educational theatre companies across Europe, in places such as Bologna in Italy, and in Belgium.

The result is a piece of work designed specifically to introduce children to what the programme note for the show terms “a theatrical experience of beauty in a gentle, enchanting world”. Blátha Bána is a mere 25 minutes long – just long enough to hold the attention of little minds – but it is a very different experience to, say, a Punch and Judy show, or the hyped up, all colour, and singing and dancing performances parents may be used to attending with their small children. Instead, the landscape of the production is muted, downplayed, and mystical. The play is a devised piece of work, clearly drawn from Gaelic myth and legend, and it employs the sensory, and the sensuous, to engage the children – some of whom, on the day I attended, were as young as just a few months.

Photo: Ger FitzGibbonActress Una Kirwan embodies the story. Dressed in golden robes, she looks in wonder as white petals (Blátha Bána is translated to English as White Blossoms) drop from the silver trees about her; she picks them up and examines them in amazement, in the manner of a child, for whom the world is an endlessly fascinating place. She sings, in a clear, pure voice, in English and Irish, against the backdrop of Fiona Kelleher's gentle, otherworldly music.

Deirdre Dwyer's set design is simple, yet complex. The colours are plain, white and silver, yet she has also found a means of incorporating a gushing stream, filled with blue and white pebbles, into the created environment. Kirwan stoops down and fills a glass jar with water and with pebbles, the stones crunch against the glass; the result is a simple, sensory pleasure. Next, three paper swans swim into the scene, one after another. Again, Kirwan picks them up, examines them, holds them out for the children to see and to become entranced by, and puts them away. Finally, she finds a goldfish – a splash of orange against the plain of the white and silver – and holds it in the jar of water, allowing it to swim for a while before sending it on its way.

The piece becomes a balance between these moments of surprise, and the moments of repetition, such as when the flowers fall: just enough happens that the children will not become bored, but neither are they encouraged to become overwhelmed. On the day I saw the show, a surprising number of the young audience remained calm, quiet and seated, as the production wound its way to a close.

The production takes place in Graffiti's permanent home, a renovated church in the Blackpool area of Cork; from the moment of entrance, the mood is a gentle one. The children, who take off their shoes, are ushered to a side space of white cloths and cushions, where they can read books, or play softly. A white, humped-back bridge then leads them through curtains into the performance space itself. Graffiti has long taken seriously its responsibility to serving children and young people with intelligent, innovative theatre; now it has found a way to translate that experience to the very youngest among us. It is a pleasure, and a privilege, to see.

Rachel Andrews is an arts journalist and critic based in Cork.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Blátha Bána (White Blossoms) by Graffiti Theatre Company

16 - 26 May, 2012

Produced by Graffiti Theatre Company
In Graffiti Theatre

Devised by Emelie FitzGibbon, Síle Ní Bhroin, Deirdre Dwyer, Fiona Kelleher, and Una Kirwan.

Directed by Emelie FitzGibbon and Síle Ní Bhroin

Music Composition: Fiona Kelleher

Set & Costume Design: Deirdre Dwyer

Lighting Design: Eoin Winning

With: Una Kirwan