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New Show ‘Five Fables’ TX 13 March BBC NI
10 Mar 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
‘Five Fables’ sees the retelling of five medieval Scottish stories written by Scots poet Robert Henryson approximately 500 years ago. The fables were translated by Seamus Heaney and have now been transformed into charming animated stories for TV family viewing. The show is narrated by Scottish comedian-actor Billy Connolly with a score by Belfast-born pianist Barry Douglas. It was made by animation studio Flickerpix, based in Holywood, Belfast.

Beginning on Thursday 13 March at 7pm on BBC Two Northern Ireland, each of the five programmes in the series contain an introduction by Heaney, a fully animated fable, and a ‘behind the scenes’ segment of how the tales were adapted for television. Irish poet-playwright Seamus Heaney was involved in all aspects of the project from its inception. ‘Five Fables’ was the last project he worked on before passing away.

Joel Simon, Supervising Director of ‘Five Fables’ and Creative Director at Flickerpix, talked about Seamus’s willingness to make changes to his own work, and his trusting nature in having the studio adapt his book: “With any of the artwork, storyboards or clips of the episodes we showed him, he was always happy with what we produced.” The studio chose a “stylised look” with “comical undertones”, akin to their project ‘On the Air’ which Heaney liked the look of.

The first programme, called ‘The Two Mice’ centres around two mice sisters and examines the enticement of the city. The urban dwelling mouse believes her life is much better than the rougher country life of her rural sister, but soon learns the city is not without its own danger. It thus contains a simple morality tale told in a non-condescending way.

Speaking whilst filming for the series, Seamus Heaney said: “What I liked about the idea of having Billy Connolly read this version was that I think he’s capable of combining the popular with the rather more elite… [He is] somebody with presence and with possibilities other than the wild man doing a comic act on the stage which is also deeply attractive.”

After meeting Seamus Heaney for the first time in April 2013, Billy Connolly said: “I love him, he’s great. He’s a lot gentler than I expected. For some reason, I thought he’d be more forward, slightly more aggressive, but he’s a big gentle dumpling. I think he’s amazing.” Joel similarly found Seamus to be “very jovial and very warm, cordial and full of character.”

On his contribution to this project, Belfast-born pianist-composer Barry Douglas said: “I enjoyed this very much. As a child and teenager I wrote reams of music, mostly rubbish. Since then I’ve tried to get a bit more serious – I’ve written cadenzas for Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos, but this is a very major thing for me, a new departure and I’m very excited.”

David Cumming, Executive Producer for Flickerpix, added: “What has made this project so exciting is the bringing together of so many talented people from different disciplines – all at the top of their game - Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation, Billy Connolly’s rich delivery, Barry Douglas’s beautiful music and Joel Simon and Dean Burke’s stunning images. This has been a joy and a privilege to work on from start to finish.”

Joel Simon expressed: “My hope for the series is that it will travel and be viewed and enjoyed over the years beyond Ireland. I’m really hoping that Seamus’s work, the richness of the fables themselves, and the morality inherent in all the stories will appeal to people in other countries as well. The stories themselves are so beautifully rich with a lot of meaning that, even though the stories were written 2000 years ago, tell of time’s truth. I’m hoping that through the animation we can carry these truths forth for many generations to come.”

The remaining four fables are ‘The Mouse and the Lion’, ‘The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter’, ‘The Preaching of the Swallow’ and ‘The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer’.

‘Five Fables’ is a Flickerpix Production for BBC Northern Ireland. It received support from the Northern Ireland Screen Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

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