I had the pleasure and the privilege of talking to the members of fledgling theatre company The Children this week about their show Does Anybody Ever, appearing at The Players Theatre from September 12-17th as part of ABSOLUT Fringe.
The Children are Sophie Meehan, Stephen Lehane, Gemma Collins and Neil Douglas, who met and developed as writers and performers at Dublin Youth Theatre. Does Anybody Ever was conceived and written by Sophie, who initally presented the show as part of DYT’s Members One Act Festival (MOAF) in September 2010. Although each individual was occupied with staging their own production for the festival, they encouraged and supported one another and cast one another in their shows and the relationships evolved so naturally that forming a theatre company seemed the logical next step. Do they remember exactly when they made the decision? “Friday 13th,” is the immediate reply. “Which is a bit weird,” admits Stephen.
Sophie had been toying with the idea of submitting the play for ABSOLUT Fringe, encouraged by the support of their peers at THEATREClub, with whom they had collaborated on earlier projects. The others readily agreed to come on board. Given the warm reception the show had already received in its earlier incarnation, and the support network of their many contacts and DYT behind them, submitting to Fringe “wasn’t a really intimidating thing to go into,” says Sophie.
The Children are so-named because, as Stephen explains, they’re one of the youngest theatre companies in the country and they might as well acknowledge it. It began as an affectionate teasing nickname given to them by THEATREClub, but it stuck because people are interested in new theatre by young, up-and-coming performers so why not use it as a selling point?
It doesn’t take long to figure out that, despite the name, the ideas that concern the group are mature and developed. If it’s possible to identify common interests that unite the group, it might be discernible in the work they were making separately before The Children was officially formed. For the aforementioned Members One Act Festival, Neil and Gemma worked together on a show called Get Off The Phone, I Need To Use The Internet, which Gemma summarises as “being mostly about fear”. Stephen’s show, 1992, involved “dealing with grief”, he says. The soft-spoken but very articulate Sophie described the basic premise of Does Anybody Ever as being an exploration of the “heightened relationships” that develop when people are thrown together in a confined space.
The play revolves around three adult-sized kids who may or may not be related by blood, but are family nonetheless. They cohabit in a bleak space that they have tried to make homely, in the way that children might try to make an impenetrable fortress out of sofa cushions. In this self-contained, claustrophobic environment with no reference frame for normal behaviour beyond the reality they invent, they play games. As anyone who grew up with siblings knows, games can be deadly serious and no one knows better how to push your buttons than the ones who love you most. The audience bring their own perceptions of what constitutes reality, fantasy or delusion to the table, so the atmosphere teeters from the comical to the sinister as one tries to figure out whether what’s unfolding is childish play or psychological warfare. There are of course, echoes of Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles but also any Enid Blyton-esque children’s story. You know, the stuff about pixies and morality that made total sense when you were a kid, with its strange combination of absurdity and gravitas, but on re-reading as an adult makes you feel like you’re on acid.
I spent a long time talking with the group about the issues that interest them (from mental health to Deaf culture) and it’s clear that while they work very well as a group, they all have unique interests, which surely bodes well for the future of the company, as it keeps things fresh. As Neil puts it, “the kind of show I’d make, for example, would be very different to the kind of show Steve would make, or that Sophie would make.” Is that ever a cause for friction? “Nah, we’ve learned to compromise,” laughs Gemma.
For more info on the show and booking, see the ABSOLUT Fringe website here.