Big Telly's The Faerie Thorn shows magical gifts for language and organisation

Big Telly Theatre Company's production of The Faerie Thorn – in Newry tomorrow night – is a riveting show; it’s pure theatre, with dance, masks, imaginative special effects and wonderful language

TOO many people think theatre is an easy way to make a living, off all day and a couple of hours performing at night. Far from the truth.

Tomorrow evening in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre Newry it’s curtain up on a remarkable theatre production that will tour in 18 different venues before June 10 and organising that is a nightmare and an achievement.

The Faerie Thorn is a Big Telly Theatre Company production and it’s a riveting show. For me it’s pure theatre; a touch of ballet, theatrical masks, a groaning effects table – celery, leather gloves, bottles of water and sponges only a few of the props.

Director Zoe Seaton has an imagination to envy and a team to applaud. The story, adapted from Jane Talbot’s book, revolves round Man Donaghy and his wife. He’s one of the Big People, "all black-haired and broad and handsome-strong, with the dark, urgent eyes of a hungry dog".

When his wife doesn’t produce a child, he offers her to the Little People who lived beneath the Faerie Thorn and takes a new wife to work on the farm and provide him with a child. Well, things go from bad to worse and we the audience are caught up in the whirling goings on and believe me it’s dark and fascinating, funny and scary. I can’t forget how Man Donaghy was skinned alive by the Trolls – great and imaginative way to use a pair of flesh-coloured tights.

If you ever think you’ve a headache trying to plan a family holiday, just think of Louise Rossington, general manager of the Portstewart-based Big Telly company, who has arranged venues round Ireland and Britain, not only stages but accommodation and meals for a company of 11, trucks to take scenery and a people carrier for the cast.

“We’ve built up a relationship with theatres over the years and with emails I can work in advance, in this case since 2015. We started near home in the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine, then The MAC in Belfast and last week it was Dublin.”

So far so good but this is just the beginning of a tour which will take them to places like Cushendall, Enniskillen, Derry, Waterford, Bellaghy, Newtownards, Omagh, Oxford, Isles of Lewis, Harris and Uist, Outer Hebrides and Clapham! And the company is celebrating as the word has just come through that they will then head off to Germany for the Dresden Festival.

The author of the book on which the show is based is originally from Wiltshire. She fell in love with a man from Northern Ireland and moved to live on his farm and there found a faerie thorn. Although not a believer in the little people, she visited the tree morning and evening and after one such visit she went back to bed for a while.

“And when I woke up I was astonished to find that a fully formed story about the faerie thorn was in my head. Now I have a sense that I’m living in a place that is full of stories waiting to be told. I feel at home – and I may actually believe in faeries too.”

Once her book was finished she took an offering of Bushmills whiskey and cream for the underground dwellers: “They took the whiskey and left the cream!”

:: See for full tour listing.


Talking of talent...

HE’S at it again. Co Down's Rowel Friers is only 14 but he really is making a name for himself on the music scene in Ireland and in London and now he’s off to perform in Carnegie Hall, New York.

The Holywood boy has been named Dublin International Piano Competition's most gifted young pianist in Ireland, got the highest marks ever in the international exam of Trinity College London, gaining a performance diploma usually awarded to an adult musician, and he’s now an Associate of the London College.

He’s been working at BBC Radio Ulster Classical Connections on two programmes – one was recorded in Rosemary Street Church and the other in the Blacktstaff Studios, Belfast.

But the big news of the moment is, as the result of auditions held around the world, he has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall on May 12.

“Probably a Tchaikovsky Concerto,” says his dad Jeremy. “But he hasn’t decided yet.”

Rowel has just taken possession of a brand new piano, free of charge from Kawai, the Japanese manufacturers who have realised this prodigy is worth supporting. His last piano, from the same company, was completely worn out after three years, such is the work ethic of this young man who plays and practices almost non-stop – although school is still important.

His outlook on life is that it’s more blessed to give than to receive and most of his performances are for charity so this new piano – worth in the region of £20,000 – is a timely gift and offers support to this young man and his family when they need it most.

It’s an expensive business being a young genius but this modest family are determined Rowel will be given every opportunity possible to develop his gift.

:: You can see and hear Rowel Friers DipATCL on YouTube.

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