The Great Carmo!

Cahoots NI presents 'The Great Carmo!' Photo: Ken Haddock

Cahoots NI presents 'The Great Carmo!' Photo: Ken Haddock

Harry Cameron - aka The Great Carmo - was a highly regarded man of the theatre and the circus. The legendary Bertram Mills turned to him for advice and teamed up with him for a season prior to setting up what would become arguably the world’s most famous tenting circus. Cameron had an eye for the spectacular and was one of the first to combine the appeal of magic and theatre with circus and animals.

He forged a rather unexpected link with Ireland through rehearsing most of his shows in Bangor, County Down, helped by the Barry family, the owners of Portstewart’s famous amusements, who had sufficient lands and tents to accommodate his lavish requirements. Decades later, the local connection has been revived. Paul Bosco McEneaney, artistic director of Cahoots NI, has taken Cameron as both the inspiration and the title of its entertaining new piece for small children.

Cahoots NI was commissioned by Belfast’s Lyric Theatre to produce The Great Carmo! as its Christmas show. With its state-of-the-art new building due to open in the spring, the currently homeless Lyric is keeping its brand alive during the festive season with this little theatrical jewel, which is playing schools and public arenas up and down the snowy wastes of the country.

The brightly coloured fit-up set sits snugly within the curved round of the Island Arts Centre’s studio space, looked down upon by rows of excited children and their equally bedazzled adult companions.

McEneaney’s intention is to transform each performance space into a town awaiting the arrival of the travelling players. To the strains of Ursula Burns’s Eastern-European flavoured accordion music, the characters appear unannounced from among the audience, make their way onto the set, assemble their props and costumes and, without further ado, begin their show. The dramatic effect is equally effective, whether that space is a conventional theatre or a school assembly hall.

Over the years, Cahoots has gathered an experienced ensemble cast, among whose stalwarts are musician/musical director Burns and inveterate circus performer Hugh Brown. The affable Brown plays Carmo, a magician and illusionist, known and loved the length and breadth of the land. But time is passing and the old showman is growing frail and jaded. Reluctantly, he decides to call it a day, to the obvious dismay of his faithful followers.

But his devoted public is determined that the show must go on. Under the new title Carmo Family Circus, three young performers step forward to fill his shoes. Charlotte McCurry and Doireann McKenna are accomplished singers and musicians, while Jude Quinn brings all the finely-honed physicality of his Le Coq training in Paris to his quirky stage presence. Between them, snakes are charmed out of baskets, women are sawn in half and pierced with blades, and coloured scarves are transformed into tasty cordials.

It’s all done with great theatrical inventiveness and expert storytelling skills. The response of the young audience is evidenced by their reluctance to bid farewell to these engaging characters, who, in the space of less than an hour, have become their friends.

Jane Coyle is a Belfast based arts journalist, performing arts critic and screenwriter, who also reviews for the Irish Times and The Stage.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Great Carmo! by Paul Bosco McEneaney

29 November -18 December, 2010 (on tour)

Produced by Cahoots NI
In Island Arts Centre, Lisburn

Directed by: Paul Bosco McEneaney

With: Hugh Brown, Ursula Burns, Doireann McKenna, Charlotte McCurry, Jude Quinn