Famed Northern Ireland theatre company Cahoots NI is celebrating coming of age as it marks its 18th birthday.
The company specialises in theatre for children and its distinctive style combines magic and illusion, physical theatre and original music.
Its work is acclaimed in Ireland, the UK, America and has been enjoyed in theatres, schools and all kinds of venues since it launched in 2001.
The company is currently touring China with its production of Shh! We Have a Plan and has ever-growing audiences at home and across the world.
Their production Penguins is about to run in Birmingham Repertory Theatre and will open at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast in December. The company’s theatrical adaption of Marita Conlon-McKenna’s Under The Hawthorn Tree heads to The MAC and tours Ireland in the new year.
One of the founders and Artistic Director Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney says it’s amazing to have come so far.
“We’ve come of age. Isn’t that frightening?”
He revealed that the company came about almost by chance.
“It started by complete accident. When I was six or seven, I was obsessed with magic.
“Honestly, my mother and father couldn’t go past a shop that had anything linked to Paul Daniels or David Nixon. I had every magic set under the sun. I just loved it, and later I became one of the youngest members of The Magic Circle.
Along with that came a real love of circus, and fun fairs, and anything that, when I analyse it now, was built for joy or for fun or for amazement
“I knew that was my world.”
After touring the US as a musician Paul realised theatre was his first love.
“Absolutely, my first love.
“So, I came back and studied performing arts at BIFHE (Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, now Belfast Met). “Then I decided I was going to be an actor. That was it.
“I got into The Lyric Theatre at a good time, I did three or four shows back to back. A Midsummers Night’s Dream, The Playboy of the Western World and others.
“After that I became a jobbing actor. I was doing the odd little bit of film and nothing hugely significant, but I was making a living out of it.
“Then Anna Cutler, who ran the Belfast Children’s Festival at that time, asked me if I’d ever thought of writing anything for young audiences.
“I ended up writing a show called Puppet Magic, and I was in it. It got picked up by a few of the visiting international delegates who said, ‘We’d like that at our festival’.
“They were all happening the following year. So I was asking, how do we do this? How do we make this work? And the only way to make it work financially, was to form a company.
“This allowed me to access some funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, who would in turn support the international travel for this project.
“We renamed the show Buster, and it opened at the Edinburgh International Children’s Theatre Festival the following year. And then you do one show and you go, ‘Oh gosh, we should do another’.
“So, there was no plan. There was absolutely no plan.”
Paul said theatre for children was not seen as a priority back in the beginning of Cahoots NI.
“There was an inequality in the funding streams back then. I don’t believe children’s work was funded in the same way theatre for adults was.
“At the time, there was an education company, that was doing issue-based work and that was funded, but what we were hoping to do didn’t exist in Northern Ireland.”
Cahoots NI has gone on to challenge and change perceptions, with Paul adamant that children are just as deserving of top-quality theatre as adults.
He also says theatre can play a social role, instilling empathy in children and making them more socially aware.
“We are not changing the world, but we’re going to make the world a slightly better place with what we do.”
The company is now in big demand all over the world and has toured to Europe, Asia, all over the US and has even had requests to take their shows to Chile in South America.
Cahoots does not plan to rest on its laurels though.
Paul is already looking forward to future milestones.
“I’m looking towards 2021, which is our twentieth year – I feel I’m looking towards some sort of mini Cahoots NI festival, perhaps a celebration of our best work to date.
We are currently working on a new show called The Vanishing Elephant which will play in Belfast before opening on Broadway. Our future is exciting – I’m keen to create greater and longer partnerships with other organisations here and across the world.
The Cahoots show definitely looks set to go on.
Penguins, a Cahoots NI, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Prime Theatre co-production will run at The Lyric Theatre from December 18-22. Under The Hawthorn Tree will open at The MAC on January 30 through to February 9 before touring Ireland.
For more information about Cahoots NI or their shows log onto http://www.cahootsni.com
£10million Investment in Transformation of New Train Station for York Street
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced a £10m investment project that will see the construction of a new train station at York Street, Belfast.
Having recently secured planning permission, this exciting regeneration project will be the next station to be transformed into a high-quality sustainable transport hub, to attract more people to make public transport their first choice for greener and healthier travel.
Announcing the funding, Minister Mallon said: “I am committed to delivering sustainable infrastructure that will transform communities, improve lives and help tackle the climate crisis. Key to that commitment is ensuring we have a functioning and thriving public transport network and that is why I want to invest in our infrastructure and our rail infrastructure in particular, which will deliver for local people and visitors now and well into the future.
“Last year I launched a public consultation on proposals to redevelop this new train station at York Street. Following the completion of the consultation process, and the subsequent receipt of planning approval, I am delighted to confirm that this £10million project can move towards construction phase.
“Our public transport network is vital in our recovery from Covid-19 both economically and socially. Pre-covid the current facility was one of the busiest train stations in Northern Ireland. With the move of Ulster University to this part of Belfast, it is expected this will grow further with improved facilities, including better links to walking and cycling options in the area, making it even easier for people to choose sustainable travel as their smarter travel mode.”
The Minister added: “As well as improving connectivity and making public transport a more attractive offering the redevelopment of the station will also help to secure jobs in the local construction industry. I look forward to seeing work commence later this year and the completion of the new station in 2023.”
Chris Conway, Translink Group Chief Executive said: “This is really good news for the city. It will provide better connectivity for everyone particularly with the opening of the new Ulster University campus this year and the planned City Quays development.
“Passengers will enjoy modern, more accessible amenities including a new Changing Places facility and better links to walking and cycling options with more access to cycle parking and local cycle networks. A new footbridge will link to wider platforms and new canopies.
“The external design will boast an enhanced station layout with high quality landscaping and provision of a public realm area at the front of the station.
“We would like to thank the Minister and her department for the essential funding to deliver this vital infrastructure scheme which will significantly shape the future of this area. It will provide the people of North Belfast with connections that can improve the area’s liveability and the community’s employability. We will continue to work with all our stakeholders as the development progresses”, Chris concluded.
Stormont Play Park ‘Quiet Hour’ Launched
Finance Minister, Conor Murphy has announced a special ‘Quiet Hour’ at the Mo Mowlam Playpark on the Stormont Estate, making the facilities more inclusive for all.
The playpark, which is designed for children of all abilities and includes a dedicated sensory area, will now be opened one hour earlier each Wednesday morning during July, creating a calmer environment for children with additional needs.
The Quiet Hour will run from 8.30am-9.30am for an initial four-week trial and if successful, will become a regular fixture.
Speaking during a visit to the playpark along with Health Minister this morning, Minister Murphy said: “Inclusive play is at the heart of this wonderful facility which is extremely popular with families and children.
“We recognise that due to its popularity, the playpark can get very busy and this can be overwhelming for some children. So we’re delighted to be able to open the gates an hour earlier one day a week to allow those with additional needs to be able to play in a quieter setting.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I am delighted to support this initiative and to meet the young people and their families for whom it will undoubtedly prove a popular addition to the facilities available with the Stormont Estate. Making all aspects of society as accessible and inclusive as possible to all our citizens and in particular the young is an ambition which we must all continue to work towards.”
Welcoming the initiative, Autism NI CEO Kerry Boyd said: “It is great to see that the playpark will be introducing a special Quiet Hour for children with additional needs. Many of our autistic families have enjoyed the facility since it has opened and will benefit greatly from the park opening an hour early. We hope others will follow this great example and help to build an inclusive society for everyone.”
The Quiet Hour was championed by a number of parents who have been engaging with Stormont Estate staff in recent weeks. After meeting with parents and children at the park, Minister Murphy said: “I was delighted to speak with parents who have been instrumental in making this a reality. It’s so important that children of all abilities can continue to enjoy this excellent playpark as much as possible. I’m very pleased to be able to facilitate this Quiet Hour and I hope it proves to be a great success.”