Jude Quinn, Darren Franklin and Hugh Brown in Cahoots NI’s 'Egg'. Photos: Richard Watson

Jude Quinn, Darren Franklin and Hugh Brown in Cahoots NI’s 'Egg'. Photos: Richard Watson

If children’s theatre is to be effective it needs to be as uncompromising in its production values as that of adults. With a backstage team of ten supporting a cast of three, Cahoots take seriously the task of making a play out of an egg, inside a black box. Directed with exacting precision by Paul McEneaney, Egg combines technical excellence with literal flights of imagination. He takes full advantage of the dark to create a place that is ‘other’ (mostly charming, but occasionally scary) and with sophisticated light and sound, combined with cleverly-conceived props, weaves an enchanting story.

Photo: Richard WatsonEgg is about growth, flight, departure, and the shape of the piece – three chicks, three mornings of increasingly-familiar rituals and, one by one, three partings – permits Egg to address its themes. The symbols – egg, fledgling, nest, wings – may only resonate at a sub-conscious level with the very young, but my nine-year-old companion Lucy clearly grasped the growth to independent living and the fear. (The production achieves a real moment of menace with the arrival of a predatory crow.)

The routines are hypnotic. Muirne Bloomer’s choreography makes a major contribution to the litheness and fluidity of movement. The three actors spend a lot of time on tippy-toes, gliding and then leaping with grace and with perfect timing. Within that framework there is space for wit, variation and improvisation – around missing the early worms, snaffling grubs, capturing raindrops. We know what’s coming (almost) but surprise and novelty keep us on the edge of our seats.

While the illusion of the actors (Hugh Brown, Darren Franklin and Jude Quinn) being birds is never fully realised – and it doesn’t need to be – they each achieve an individual (facial elasticity works wonders) identity for each of these creatures, part-feathered-friends, part-apprentice-pilots and, with the exception of that menacing crow, generally friendly fellows.

Designer Stephen Bamford’s raised circular platform is a nest (a thing of twigs and sticks and unexpected trap-doors) and, in the cosy space of the Draíocht studio, it works well. The ingenuity of Paul Gomac, prop-builder and ‘self-taught magician’, in making telescopes, rain-catchers, radio aerials, a banquet hall for an egg and, triumphantly, birds that fly high through the auditorium, adds to the enchantment. If the inventiveness impresses the mums and dads, the outcomes succeed here in capturing the wonderment of the four- and five-year-olds.

Photo: Richard WatsonThis is a play without words. The soundscape, in Garth McConaghie’s humourous, syncopated score, binds the narrative. Malcolm Smith’s lighting plot, which encompasses night and dawn and day, as well as tracing the soaring flight of birds, is a major contributor to sustaining the wonder. This kind of language gives Egg the potential to reach young audiences across varied climes and divides.

The continuity of life is proposed through the landing of the eponymous egg; there’s a delightful sequence where Dodo (Jude Quinn), the last occupant of the nest, mounts a defiant defence and then provides lavish hospitality for the new arrival. A quibble with the plot might be that Dodo, instead of leaving this egg to hatch and grow in the nest, pockets the egg before take-off – but ultimately Lucy’s verdict, shared by this reviewer, is that this is a really good show.

Derek West manages Creative Engagement, an arts programme for second-level schools, and edits publications for the National Association of Principals and Deputy-Principals (NAPD).

  • Review
  • Theatre

Egg by Cahoots NI

1 Oct - 6 Nov, 2011 (on tour)

Produced by Cahoots NI
In Draíocht

Adapted from 'Egg and Bird' by Alex Higlett

Directed by Paul McEneaney

Set Design: Stephen Bamford

Costume Design: Laura Nelson

Lighting Director: Malcolm Smith

Musical Director: Garth McConaghie

With: Hugh Brown, Darren Franklin and Jude Quinn

Age 4+