Back in the box: Why Bosco is Ireland’s favourite five-year-old

Ireland’s rock-star puppet is on a nationwide tour. Bosco talks with Donal O’Keeffe about environmentalism, Brexit and Michael D

Back in the box: Why Bosco is Ireland’s favourite five-year-old

Ireland’s rock-star puppet is on a nationwide tour. Bosco talks with Donal O’Keeffe about environmentalism, Brexit and Michael D

A murmur of anticipation ripples through the darkened auditorium of Kilkenny’s Watergate Theatre as the well-loved jingle-jangle theme music plays and the spotlight picks out a curtained puppet theatre.

“Hello boys and girls!” comes a familiar voice, high and sweet.

Prompted by their parents, small children shout back “Hello Bosco!” After a spirited countdown, it’s curtains up for a sugar-rush show which plays to Bosco’s rock-star strengths and relies on call-and-response routines as old as puppetry itself. Kids are soon screaming with laughter, and parents seem thrilled to have passed along to them a childhood friend.

I’m in Kilkenny on a rainy Sunday to interview Bosco, and Ireland’s most famous five-year-old clearly hasn’t lost any of his magic. Her. Their. Aaargh. Personal pronouns are a nightmare with Bosco.

“I’m not a boy or a girl,” shrugs Bosco, like it’s the simplest thing in the world. Maybe it is. “I’m just a Bosco.” Bosco is exactly who you think: tiny, cheeky, innocent, wise, funny, and very kind. (Declaration of interest: I drew the portrait of Bosco on the current show’s poster.) Bosco never goes anywhere without Paula Lambert, best friend, assistant, and manager. Daughter of Eugene and Mai Lambert, founders of the Lambert Puppet Theatre, Paula cut her puppeteering teeth playing — with her siblings — the mice on RTÉ’s Wanderly Wagon (1967-1982).

Paula shuns the limelight, preferring to let Bosco do the talking. Which isn’t a problem for Bosco.

Bosco loves touring, and got up really early to come to Kilkenny this morning (“I was in a van and there was LOADS of rain”). I ask if Bosco has any diva-ish eccentricities, any weird habits like not talking to anybody before a show, or staying in the box until curtains up.

“No! I talk to people, and I like a drink of water before I go on. It doesn’t have to be special water, you know the way people want strange things.

“I like to bring my own water, because I don’t like to buy bottles cos I’m very good at saving plastics.” At this I remind Bosco that President Higgins — another great environmentalist — last year in the Irish Examiner wished Bosco a happy birthday on the five-year-old’s 40th birthday. (Bosco is magic. Just go with it.) “I like President Higgins,” says the tiny, fiery red-head. “I’m VERY like him.” It’s odd to see someone whose head is made of wood do deadpan, but there you go.

“Bosco! Whaddaya mean?” giggles Paula, before saying “I have no control over Bosco.” I ask if Bosco voted for Michael D.

“Well, I can’t vote, cos I’m five.” Would you favour lowering the age of voting to five? “No, that’d just be silly.

“I’d love to do a show in his house. I did a show when it was Mary McAleese’s house. And when it was Mary Robinson’s. But I didn’t do a show with Michael D yet.”

He reads the Irish Examiner, I say, so you never know.

“And when they pay you, ya get an envelope with a gold harp! Like, proper gold!” C’mon, Bosco. Are you a bit of a diva? “NO! I’m not! I’m GOOD! You should ask my crew!”

Okay, but if you weren’t around, might they talk more freely? “No! They’d say that I’m a DREEEAM, always good-humoured, and I NEVER give out!” Onstage, a young man pokes his head out from the curtains and wags his finger in a don’t be-telling-lies way. Beside us, Paula dissolves in laughter.

“That’s Johnny,” says Bosco. “He’s Paula’s son. I don’t know WHY he’s wagging his finger. Maybe it’s just an itchy finger.”

Bosco always works with the same people. “I work with Johnny and Simon. They do EVERYTHING!

“Simon does all the sound and technical things. Johnny is a VERY good puppeteer and setter-upper, and he makes all the puppets for my shows, and he made my lunch, and I got muesli and pineapple and yoghurt.” Is Paula ever cranky? Sometimes, Bosco concedes, but that’s never Bosco’s fault. “I don’t make ANYBODY cross.”

Then Bosco reconsiders.

“Well, maybe I annoy people sometimes. Sometimes they don’t like my voice, and say it’s too loud, or too shrill.” Oh, Bosco. Welcome to Ireland.

Bosco isn’t happy about Brexit: “I don’t think that Boris fellow likes Irish people, but I suppose you can’t say that.” When did you ever not say whatever you felt, Bosco? “Never!” Any final message for the boys and girls?

“Come and see my show! And try not to buy any plastics.

“Oh, and please recycle your old batteries for the LauraLynn children’s hospice.” Later, in the foyer, I chat about Bosco with Cara, who works in the box office. A small boy hears us and approaches to ask if I know Bosco. Jack Grace is 4, and so is Lily Byrne, who comes over to talk too. They speak of Bosco in awed tones. I ask them to stay with their moms as I nip back into the theatre.

Moments later, I convey a message: if Jack and Lily stay in their seats after the show, Bosco’s friend Paula will bring them onstage and introduce them to Bosco. Heading out into the lashing rain, I leave two small children buzzing with joy.

Wait till they see the show.

Bosco is currently touring Ireland. For details see boscosbox.com.

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