TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

'Getting away with murder'

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By John Paul Gilbourne
"Barrabas the company." So it's named after the biblical bogeyman? You know, Barrabas - the one that got away with it? Well... no, apparently.

The name, according to the artistic director Raymond Keane, is taken from that well-known, well-loved children's book, Barrabas: the fastest banana in the west (huh?). Sure you know it, the one with Pontius Pineapple, Mary Mandarin and Judas the Carrot.

"I suppose it does have a nice dodgy kind of feel to it," smiles Raymond. "And sometimes it does feel like were getting away with murder. Although, you have to remember Barrabas was only a robber." This kind of playful humour will be familiar to those who have seen productions given the Barrabas treatment. It's at the core of what Raymond and Barabbas are getting away with in plays like Half Eight Mass of a Tuesday and The Whiteheaded Boy. "Yes, humour is at the core of our shows its darker shades, too."

However, although evident in much of their work, humour is not the defining feature of the group's productions. "You could call it all sorts of things mime, dance, physical theatre, visual stuff. We think of ourselves as theatre makers. We devise new ways of production and performance. When we founded Barrabas in 1993, we - Mikel Murfi,Veronica Coburn and I - thought we could form a kind of theatre that could be accessed without having to speak English or Irish the attraction of physical theatre or at least the idea of accessing theatre through physicality was interesting to us," he explains. "Because you can use words, words and more words but sometimes a tiny gesture can say all that. There's a nice kind of truth in physical performance that we're always poking at, I suppose."

This inclination towards physical theatre is the common thread running through the backgrounds of the three founding member of Barrabas. Ingrained in each of their theatre training and experience are the traditionally continental disciplines of clown and bouffon. The pathos and melancholia of clowning strikes a philosophical chord with Raymond. The Clown is humanity, failure, the failure within us all. Despite the dominance of the world around us, we each eke out a path for ourselves. Its a rare moment of seriousness he dispells with a chuckle. Sounds very heavy, doesn't it? The laughter comes easily because failure, at least the commercial kind, has never come close to touching Barrabas.

"Although essentially Irish in subject and style, productions like The Whiteheaded Boy and Half Eight Mass of a Tuesday (a very fast, physical interpretation. Y'know, kitchen sink comedy. But great craic) have translated successfully to the international stage. "We almost always tour the shows. Half Eight took us around Ireland, over to Denmark and to France. We've also had theatre workshops in London, Wales, Denmark again, and the US."

As well as touring success, Barrabas has enjoyed consistent critical acclaim, winning an Entertainment Award in the 1997 Pan-Celtic Film and Television Awards; three nominations in the 1998 ESB Irish Times Theatre Awards; and the 1998 Kilkenny Beer Cream of Irish Theatre Award for their contribution to Irish Theatre.

It seems that as long as the Arts Council keeps giving them whack loads of funding, audiences, and critics alike, will continue to lap up the pathos and bathos the Barrabas boys dish out.