The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

Best of BE Festival: Darragh McLoughlin

This April, we’ll be welcoming Birmingham’s BE Festival to The Pit theatre for a week of genre-pushing physical theatre, dance and circus.

We’ve been speaking to the artists behind this year’s three daring solos to find out more about their performance, their background and their influences…

In our final interview, we meet Irish performer Darragh McLoughlin as he introduces the themes and experiences the audience can expect from The Whistle.

A whole sort of different experience emerged when people closed their eyes. Their ears perked up. Their imagination flared

Tell us about your show?
The Whistle concept asks the audience to open and close their eyes at the sound of a whistle. This allows me to create a live cut effect and from there I have the freedom to create all sorts of different ways of presenting narratives and experiences. It’s funny to be on stage in front of hundreds of people when none of them are watching you. Well, somebody is always watching. I explain the rules in the beginning of the show and from that point on the choice to follow (or not) is in the hands of each individual audience member. Choice, even the illusion of choice, is a very powerful thing.

What’s your inspiration behind the show?
I came across this concept in the middle of creating my other show Fragments of a Mind which relies heavily on blackouts. The open-close eyes method was a cheap way to replicate the blackout effect when I was rehearsing in a studio. I quickly realised it was often much more powerful than turning off the lights. A whole sort of different experience emerged when people closed their eyes. Their ears perked up. Their imagination flared.

What role does the audience play in your performance?
It demands the audience’s collaboration in order for it to work. I think not many audience members realise this, but they are actually creating material in their head that I am not actually doing onstage, which leads to them for brief moments being the creators of their own experience. I find this to be pretty powerful.

Most people are eager to be involved once they realise they are rewarded by following. Of course a part of the show is to occasionally cheat and not follow, and some people realise this too and can take matters into their own hands.

What three words would you use to describe your show?
A crunchy cinematic crusade…..

What are you looking forward to most about the Best of BE tour?
I am curious to play for an English speaking audience. Apart from the two shows I did in Ireland all my audiences have been non-English speaking. Not that it was ever a real issue, but since I am playing with language I think this will open up some new playful possibilities.

Has your background always been in circus?
In the performing sense, yes. Before that I could have become a chef. I see performing as curating an emotional and sensory experience for an audience, which is basically the same thing a chef does. I have been thinking about collaborating with a chef in Ireland to curate a meal in the same way a choreographer or a dramaturge would work on a stage show. It’s just about having the consciousness of what we are doing, and who we are doing it for.

Do you think circus in mainstream theatre deserves more recognition?
It is coming. As ‘contemporary’ circus (it is important to make the distinction) still has a very recent history, I think it is less afraid of being whatever it wants to be. A lot of circus performers are creeping into dance and theatre companies. Today very few artists are only an acrobat, a painter, or a musician. The internet opened up a lot of doors and so most modern artists are a hybrid of many art forms.

The thing I love most about theatre is…
Freedom of an (almost) blank canvas. Also having an audience’s full attention allows little things to be big things.

Best of BE Festival takes place from 13–16 April in The Pit