Adapting Irish mythology to theatre can seem a pretty daunting task, especially when it comes to the Ulster Cycle. There are many things one can do, and that’s only considering what we want to adapt. If we think about how to adapt it and put it on stage then the possibilities are overwhelming. After seeing Candlelit Tales’ The Epic of Cúchulainn one gets a feeling that this wasn’t much of a problem for them.
Siblings Aron and Sorcha Hegarty took a simple and yet effective approach. Classic storytelling, with live music. That’s how these stories used to be told in the past, and seeing this one being told this way made it even more special. Especially considering the venue the play was in. The Crane Bar might not a place one might link with theatre, but the musical component of this play made it the perfect venue. Not that the space mattered much once the show began.
The Hegartys are great storytellers, and just by the strength of their words and how enjoyable their narration is they transport the audience into the story. They are funny, compelling and, most importantly, evocative. The music enhances the experience as well, with both music and words helping turn that familiar story into something that feels new and refreshing. In a way, being so close to the performers made it really feel like an immersive theatre experience.
Candlelit Tales really capture the spirit of Cúchulainn with this play. For someone who might be familiar with the character it will be an interesting way of hearing a story they already know. But for others who might be unfamiliar with the character, this will be an introduction both to an interesting mythological character and the Ulster Cycle. Speaking as a foreigner and non-native speaker, I felt like this was the best introduction I could get to the character. Since the show focuses only on Cúchulainn, it doesn’t go into tangents, but they hint there are more stories there in case people want to look them up. And even when it comes to Cúchulainn the story is streamlined to get to the more interesting bits in a simpler way.
All in all, it’s obvious that the Hegartys have a deep love for Irish mythology and they want to share that with their audience. When people tell stories that they love the enthusiasm is infectious, and that’s what happenes with The Epic of Cúchulainn – their performances at this year’s Galway Theatre Festival were sold out. The only pity is that these performances are over now, but Candlelit Tales will continue bringing their blend of music and mythology around the country and it’s something everyone should experience at least once.