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.
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.