Paul Bosco McEneaney: Bringing a certain magic to a moving wartime story
The founder of theatre company Cahoots NI tells Claire Savage how he's tapped into a childhood fascination for his latest stage show
Describing himself as a 'magic nut' who reads little else but books about magic, Paul Bosco McEneaney, founder and artistic director of Belfast children's theatre company Cahoots NI, is surely the best man for the job of creating magical theatrical experiences for young minds.
The Armagh man's latest touring production, Nivelli's War, is written by the award-winning playwright Charles Way, and promises the same exceptional standard that Cahoots NI is now known for.
"I first met Charles when I was directing in Washington," he says. "We hit it off and talked about the possibility of working together. He then came across this story about a magician who was put into the concentration camps during the war. He survived because of his ability to do magic."
Having researched the magician's back story, McEneaney (above) discovered his real name had been Herbert Levin, and that he was Jewish. When he left the camps he became a famous magician in the United States.
"It's about a boy who meets Levin after he has left the camp. The two connect in a way that's magical – Levin teaches the wee boy to become a magician and he grows up to become the Great Nivelli," says Paul, adding: "When I was six, I was given a magic set by my parents. David Nixon was on the TV and I was obsessed with it. I read every book that's ever been written on magic."
The young Paul was soon performing magic shows, despite being a musician – more specifically a drummer – first and foremost. "When I was 17, I joined a band that was touring the States," he says. "It made me grow up quite fast."
Upon returning home, he went on to drama school, after which he became a jobbing actor, while still performing magic.
"I was then commissioned to write a theatre show – Buster – and invited to perform at the Imaginate Festival in Edinburgh," he says. "The only way to do that was to have a company, and that was how Cahoots NI started."
With myriad shows now under his belt, McEneaney says the Cahoots show he is perhaps most proud of is Egg, which recently won third prize at the prestigious International Performing Arts for Youth Festival in Pittsburgh, and is now set for Broadway.
"The interesting thing about our industry is that you have to guess if children will like it,"he says.
A father himself, to eight-year-old Jaimie, McEneaney admits his son has "massively shaped" his work. Indeed, the famous Egg has its roots in a picture book that his young son was obsessed with for a year-and-a-half.
With Paul's wife, Jill, also in the theatre business (she co-founded Big Telly Theatre Company and runs the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh), the magic man admits he is "very lucky, because she has a real understanding of the industry".
Given his love of 'old-school magic', what does Paul make of modern day magic men, such as Derren Brown and new boy Troy?
"Derren Brown is perhaps known for all his psychological magic, but he's written books for the magic community," he says. "The difficulty with TV is how much are you not seeing? The idea of magic isn't just to manipulate and misdirect – it's an art form. You have to create the story."
Nivelli's War is touring until March 22 and will perform at the MAC, Belfast, from Tuesday, March 4-11. For details, visit www.belfastchildrensfestival.com.