Dear Ireland – The Rock, Revisited

From April 28th – May 1st 2020 the Abbey Theatre broadcast fifty short monologues as an immediate response to COVID-19 and the first lockdown in Ireland.

The brief was simple, What should Ireland write on a postcard to itself? 

A whole year later, our newest group of Young Critics had the unique opportunity to revisit one of the pieces and watch it in isolation. Thanks to the generosity of the creators, the group had a private viewing of The Rock, written by Phillip McMahon and performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne.

We have a trio of short reviews from Anna Lynch,Evie Howard and Sarah Carolan for you to enjoy.

Image : Abbey Theatre

First up, Anna Lynch shares this review

The Rock by Phillip McMahon, part of the Dear Ireland project by the Abbey Theatre. Rating: ★★★★

The Rock poses to Ireland some uncomfortable questions, mainly how far have we as a society really come in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance?

Written by Phillip McMahon and part of Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project, The Rock is presented to us in the form of a video diary filmed by the only character. It’s recorded during a Covid-19 lockdown as a way of documenting the run-up to her wedding and to have as a keepsake for her future, but presently non-existent kids. We are privy to the troubles and turmoil the relationship between the character and her partner Carol have endured, see how internalised homophobia is still present in modern day Ireland and learn how important communication and co-operation are in relationships.

Caoilfhionn Dunne portrays the role of the angsty other half perfectly, capturing not only the essence of the lockdown madness, but also portraying the pressure of being a lesbian in Ireland. Taking into consideration the fact that the entire monologue is self-recorded and has no director, one has to applaud how smoothly the video runs.

The entire performance is intimate and personal, creating the illusion that the viewers are part of their lives. The script was outstanding, full of the Irish humour we all know and love. In particular, McMahon’s consistent references to rocks was extraordinarily clever when describing the feelings and thoughts of the character. It makes us think about how Irish views on the LGBTQ+ community and how indiscreet homophobia, even from loved ones, can have a profound impact on lives.

At times the monologue was perhaps spoken too fast, making it difficult to understand. However, overall, the short performance was excellent. This is definitely one to watch if you’re in the mood for some food for thought.

Anna is a member of Backstage Youth Theatre, Longford and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

Evie Howard writes:

In this witty and realistic account of lockdown life in Ireland, Phillip McMahon tells an engaging and thought provoking story of a Dublin woman struggling with tradition, family, and identity.
 
The Rock was written as part of the Dear Ireland project, an initiative run by the Abbey Theatre in order to keep theatre alive during a nationwide lockdown. The idea is simple; 50 pieces written by 50 playwrights which were then self-taped by 50 actors. All the pieces were written with one theme in mind; ‘what should Ireland write on a postcard to itself?’
 
This theme is one that Phillip McMahon pulls off particularly successfully, raising a number of talking points about Irish society. In The Rock, we watch as the main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) speaks directly into the camera in a way that feels very vulnerable and intimate. The piece is formatted as a video diary and we learn that she has proposed to her girlfriend and since revoked her proposal, telling a story of self-doubt and relationship troubles relatable to many. She also tells of problems with family, as she struggles to rebuild bridges with her homophobic mother. McMahon manages to pack a lot of information into the short few minutes of this piece of theatre while still keeping the dialogue natural, and Dunne makes a great performance, keeping consistent energy throughout.
 
As for negatives, of which there are few, the dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially for those unfamiliar with the Dublin accent, and the background is bland and can be distracting, but these issues are minor, and given The Rock was self-taped under unique circumstances, it can be forgiven. Overall, well worth the watch and I would recommend seeking it out should the opportunity to view it arise again.

Evie is a member of WACT Youth Theatre in County Wexford and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

Caoilfhionn Dunne Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Finally Sarah writes this review from April 30th.

The Rock- online performance for Dear Ireland- Abby theatre- written by Phillip McMahon- performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne

The rock is an insight into the stone cold society that we live in, with deep rooted beliefs that affect us more than we may think. A worthwhile watch that you, for sure, won’t take for granted.

The main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the camera about her experience of lockdown through the format of a video diary. She tells us about the societal pressure she feels in everyday life and gives us an insight to how she makes decisions that affect her. She proposed to her girlfriend, but questioned what marriage meant to her. She tells us about the strain on the relationship with her mother, who has never fully accepted her sexuality.

Overall it was an extremely well put together piece. The subtlety of Caoilfionn’s performance was impeccable, to the point where it felt natural, as if she was talking to us through the diary. I also think the online medium was used to its fullest potential. Being able to adapt a story to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and not feel out of place, is a huge skill.

The design was simple and didn’t distract from the piece, but I wonder if a more cluttered backdrop could have reflected on the obstacles the characters have overcome.

With that said, it carries an extremely important message, making you examine the importance of “social norms” in today’s society.

Sarah Carolan is a member of Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

These are the 2021 Young Critics

This year’s Young Critics have been working together online since April 10th. They have already participated in three out of ten workshops between now and October.

They will watching and talking about digital theatre under the mentorship of Dr. Karen Fricker in Toronto and our own Alan King in Dublin.

We welcomed 20 young people onto the programme this year, expanding the group from the usual 16 places.

We are especially delighted to welcome Young Critics from recently affiliated POD, Dreamstuff and UCC Youth Theatres, who will have members on the programme for the very first time.

The Young Critics for 2021 are:

Chloe Anderson, Dreamstuff YT, Co.Kilkenny

Aleisha Archer Making Waves YT, Greystones, Co. Wicklow

Sean Buckley, Complex YT, Dublin

Sarah Carolan, Explore YT, Leixlip, Co. Kildare

Aodhán Collins, POD YT, Virginia, Co. Cavan

Eoin Davy, Making Waves YT, Greystones, Co. Wicklow

Ella Gittens, Kilkenny Youth Theatre

Pádraig Harrington, Rusty Frog YT, Skibbereen, Co. Cork

Evie Howard, WACT YT, Co. Wexford

Anna Lynch, Backstage YT, Longford

Colm McAuliffe, Free Radicals Youth Theatre, Tralee, Co.Kerry

Amany McKevitt, Dublin YT

Avery Mulholland, M.A.D. YT, Dundalk, Co. Louth

Ali Murphy, Lightbulb YT, Mallow, Co. Cork

Ciara O’Driscoll, UCC YT, Cork

Éabha Phelan, Celbridge Youth Drama, Co. Kildare

Kai Ryan, Griese YT, Co. Kildare

Holly Thomson, Droichead YT, Drogheda, Co. Louth

Jasmine Walsh, Co. Limerick YT

Ciara Whelan WACT YT, Co. Wexford

This is our second year of running a fully online programme and offers the Young Critics an opportunity to connect, see some amazing digital theatre, voice their opinions and makes new friends along the way.

You can find out more about Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics Programme here.

Hallowe’en Horror Show Review By Aoife Murphy and Dylan Gallagher

In the latest review from our Young Critics, we venture again online and review our peers at Giant Wolf Youth Theatre. Working in tandem, our pair of critics log onto Discord for a seasonal online offering.

The horrific murder of a normal family, a decaying body at the bottom of a lake, the disappearance of a brother that cannot be solved, this radio play has it all.

Although Discord is a website primarily used for online gaming, Giant Wolf Youth Theatre in Tallaght, Dublin have given the platform their own unique stamp by using it to perform ‘Hallowe’en Horror Show’ on the eve of the spookiest day of the year at 7pm. This live entertainment was a free, non-ticketed event and contains six pieces created a few weeks before airing by its members. However, we will just be giving a slight taster into this great act to give our readers a sense of the show. The audience are able to post their live reactions in a separate text channel as the performance occurs and actors are also able to communicate with the listeners, answering questions while not disturbing the show.

Written and performed by Young Critics’ own Heather Jones, the introductory piece The Waiting Game is set in a bedroom. Usually it’s a place that suggests comfort and security. Any feeling of that is instantly taken from participants who tune in with how surreal this performance is.

It centralises on the death of the character’s family from a creature described as having “natural sickly white skin” and “tainted crimson all over its arms, legs and neck”.  The murder is witnessed by the only character in the show and we’re given great insight into the emotions she feels, “My whole body was numb sitting in the silence”. She hides in her bedroom while recounting the story and it ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving the audience to their imaginations. Jones’ acting skills came across the medium phenomenally and caused everyone witnessing this masterpiece heart’s to race, visualising the gruesome scene.

The second piece is named Picturesque and is made by James Chatham, Trudy Nolan, and Kai Foley, performed by the writers as well as Ella Kinsella.

We are transported back fifteen years where we meet Quinn Smith. The show is based around the interviewing of Quinn on the 7th of September, 2010 at 3pm, and gradually we learn about the events which unfolded and lead to his rehabilitation. We are presented with two different versions of the event and are left conflicted on who to believe.

At the beginning of the story, Quinn conveys himself as a loving husband and father to young Jack and Alice, describing the details of that night with loving narration. But with the twist ending, we’re left bewildered, wondering if this is all an act and if he really is the person he acts out to be. After multiple forms of evidence line up with Quinn’s recounting are presented from the interviewers attempting to convict him, what comes next is something nobody could predict. A bone chilling sinister laugh, challenging Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ is heard echoing through the device’s speakers and leaves you holding your breath in anticipation. This piece is confusing at the beginning and listeners are unsure where the story is heading, but ends up being very well thought out and keeps the audience engaged with its constant plot twists.

The final act is titled Thicker than Water and is created from the mind of Charley Ashe, also performed by Ashe as well as Trudy Nolan and James Chatham.

Our last journey tells the comedic but equally frightening tale of three characters Kevin, Katie and Ciara. These seventeen year olds are subjected to an interview by Kevin for his school project that results in both girls retelling the perplexing events that happened to them both in a Wicklow forest. This show is reminiscent to the Irish film The Hole In The Ground directed by Lee Cronin, but takes that plot to a new level with the sheer adrenaline experienced when hearing the scary situations these girls end up in. It has a great sense of place with strong Irish accents and its careful placements of sound effects help the overall feeling of an outdoor setting.

Hallowe’en Horror Show by Giant Wolf Youth Theatre is an extremely immersive experience and a surreal insight into the world of horror and all things terrifying. The wonderful narrator Cal has such a relaxing and pleasant voice. It’s extremely soothing between each piece, which just makes it all the more disturbing when we’re thrown back into these six worlds of mayhem. For only having a short and limited time to prepare, everyone involved in this production worked very well to produce a wonderful event, getting their audience in the mood to fully celebrate Halloween the next day.

Show reviewed on Oct 30th, and review submitted Nov 8th

Aoife is a member of Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare and Dylan is a member of Leitrim Youth Theatre Company Carrick On Shannon. Both are Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critics for 2020.

To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) Reviewed by Young Critics Aoife Murphy & Áindréas Fallon Verbruggen

As the dust settles on this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, two of our Young Critics give us their respective takes of Dead Centre’s To Be A Machine (Version 1.0)

In this episode of The Prop Room, Áindréas Fallon Verbruggen take look at To Be A Machine. 

This online play created by DeadCentre and Mark O’Connell for the Dublin Theatre Festival, explores the mechanics of humanity and if we are really as different as the machines we use. 

You can listen here: https://anchor.fm/aindreas-fallon-verbruggen/episodes/Episode-2-To-Be-A-Machine-eks624

Here Aoife Murphy gives us her take on To Be A Machine (Version 1.0)

Laughing in the face of level 3 restrictions, Dublin Theatre Festival held their head up high as they re-imagined what we know as theatre and delivered a superb socially distanced performance.

Developed and supported by the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, ‘To Be a Machine (Version 1.0)’ by Dead Centre and Mark O’Connell, is adapted from the Wellcome Prize-winning book by Mark and explores the idea of theatre without the barrier of a body. Staring critically acclaimed actor Jack Gleeson, playing himself, he actively attempts to not be a machine while the audience watches the live performance from Project Arts Centre in the comfort of their beds.

What is a forty five minute performance on the exploration of technological possibility and the limits of live performance, feels like a mere second. I found myself craving for more bewilderment when it ended. With its plot line hard to follow, I’m still confused as to what I witnessed exactly. But I think that’s what makes this piece that bit even more interesting. It doesn’t have one solid interpretation, so audiences can take what they want from it.

The slightly eerie atmosphere and wonderful cinematography makes gaining a sense of a personal connection to Jack seamlessly easy as he looks straight into the camera, into us, and rarely breaks eye contact. His soft voice is calming and Jack deals with some minor technical issues very professionally.

The only thing that took me out of the immersive experience is seeing my fellow Young Critic’s faces uploaded on a tablet screen, placed where we would have been sitting if we were physically at the theatre. It’s strange to witness; however it gave me some joy recognising people I know in the sea of digital profiles.

This trippy theatre performance will mess with your mind, challenging what you think you know with the exploration of the philosophical concept of what is existence. In a world constantly looking for answers to big questions, I feel that if this play were to give a solid response, it would suggest that there’s always an absolute to the trivial parts of life.

A 5/5 star performance rating.

Reviewed by Aoife Murphy Oct 3rd 2020.

You can listen to an audio version of this review here:

https://anchor.fm/alan1102/embed/episodes/To-Be-A-Machine-Version-1-0-Reviewed-by-Young-Critic-Aoife-Murphy-emcgso

Aoife is a member of Explore Youth Theatre in Leixlip Co, Kildare and Áindréas is a member of Mr. Sands Youth Theatre,Bray, Co.Wicklow. Both are Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critics for 2020.

Young Critics Panel 2020

Youth Theatre Ireland returned to Dublin Theatre Festival for the 17th iteration of Young Critics.

This year has been like no other, with a Young Critics programme to match. Between June and October, eighteen young people from across Ireland honed their critical skills from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

They have been guided on their journey of critical discovery by our expert facilitators: Alan King in Dublin and theatre critic Dr. Karen Fricker in Toronto.

Over the course of the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Young Critics engaged with several programmed events and presented their critical responses at this special online panel. 

Young Critics have been working with digital tools for criticism for the last number of years and the 2020 panel was an opportunity to showcase this like never before.

This is an edited version of the Young Critics Panel discussion that took place on Sunday, Oct 11th at 4pm.

Young Critics Panel 2020

Our panel of Young Critics discuss:

To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) by Dead Centre

The Great Hunger by Abbey Theatre in partnership with IMMA

The Party to End All Parties by ANU Productions & Dublin Theatre Festival

Chaired by Dr. Karen Fricker Hosted by Youth Theatre Ireland at the Dublin Theatre Festival 2020 https://dublintheatrefestival.ie/prog…

This Youth Theatre Ireland programme is funded by the Arts Council and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

Come join the Young Critics at Dublin Theatre Festival 2020

This year has been like no other, with a Young Critics programme to match.

Since June, eighteen young people from across Ireland have been honing their critical skills from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Over the course of the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Young Critics will engage with several programmed events and will present their critical responses at this special online panel.

Join us online on Sunday Oct 11th at 4pm for a very special online event.

The Young Critics have been guided on their journey of critical discovery by our expert facilitators: Alan King in Dublin and theatre critic Dr. Karen Fricker in Toronto.

They have been working with digital tools for criticism for the last number of years and we hope that 2020 will showcase this like never before.

To book your place in our special limited capacity Zoom Room panel, please contact Alan King 

We will be live streaming the event to a wider audience though our social media channels.

Please follow us on YouTube and Facebook and Dublin Theatre Festvial here for more updates.

An Audio review of Much Ado about Nothing by Killian Reid.

Our latest review sees a return to Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. It toured extensively throughout Ireland in 2019, so it’s no surprise to see it being reviewed again by our Young Critics.

This time, Killian from Longford offers us this audio review.

Rough Magic Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing. Photo Credit: Ste Murray

https://anchor.fm/alan1102/embed/episodes/Much-Ado-About-Nothing—A-Review-by-Killian-Reid-eh316e

Check out an earlier review by Young Critic Máiréad here for comparison.

Killian is a member he is member of Backstage Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.

Killian has been a member of Backstage Youth Theatre (BYT) for four years. Since joining BYT he has participated in many productions, including an annual panto and summer productions. In these productions Killian has worked alongside professional directors as an actor, musician, and stage manager. He enjoys all aspects of theatre and loves the fun of the yearly panto. He has taken part in movement and improvisation workshops and has most recently been selected as a member of the Backstage Theatre Young Critics project. Killian is excited to learn more about how theatre works, how it is created and how is analysed by working as a part of the Young Critics Programme. He is excited to meet more theatre loving people throughout his journey and cannot wait to discover how different people are impacted by theatre.

Reviewing our contemporaries. Two views from our Young Critics.

While our Young Critics have been meeting online over the last month, we’ve been slow to update the blog. Our latest reviews come from Lórcan O’Shea and Harry Eaves.

They had the unenviable task of reviewing a productions from their own home youth theatres. How can they stay impartial, while reviewing their friends and peers? They both cast a clear, objective view of two very different productions.

First up, Lórcan turns their attention to Sophie, Ben and Other Problems, by Kildare Youth Theatre member Conor Burke. It was presented by Binge Theatre.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of viewing a new contemporary play written and performed by Kildare Youth Theatre’s very own Conor Burke. Performed in the Riverbank Theatre in Newbridge, the theatre space itself is a ground level stage floor which faces out to five rows of raised seating. The choice of theatre only made the experience more enjoyable for the audience as it is a very interactive play that gets the audience involved as much as possible without implementing the dreaded audience participation.

This one act play was enjoyable for me from the very start right up until the curtains fell. The play centres itself around the story of Ben and his partner Sophie. The way in which it was preformed felt innovative and fresh and I very much felt like I was being presented with something new and different. The opening scene starts off as a pseudo-documentary style, addressing the audience directly. I personally found this style to be incredibly engaging from an audience perspective. In fact the entire play held my attention for its entire duration, which is a very difficult feat to accomplish.

The play also held key backstory and plot points through various flashback scenes throughout the play. Usually I am not an avid fan of flashbacks in any form of storytelling, however Sophie, Ben and Other Problems utilised flashbacks in a way that I had rarely seen before. Providing humorous and poignant insights into the characters we see on stage whilst occasionally breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience as if the play is a somewhat scripted documentary. The clever utilisation of these dramatic techniques on stage provides the audience with a basis to project themselves onto these already likeable characters. Both Sophie and Ben are fully fleshed out, authentic feeling characters. Both hold traumas in their respective pasts, present and futures but there is solace in the fact that they have each other to help cope. The audience also find comfort in this and the beautiful blend of humour mixed with truly touching moments and excellent performance makes this one of my favourite plays I’ve seen.

Sophie, Ben and Other Problems presents modern audiences with a modern concept and succeeds beautifully. There is the risk that, in an effort to seem relatable to audiences, it could come across as cringey and play up certain tendencies and tropes to attract modern audiences. However the play is a truthful and honest depiction of what its truly like to be young and to be Irish. While it’s a fairly relatable piece for anyone growing up in our current society, there is something special in the fact that it details the experience of young people in Ireland specifically. There is comfort in the added layer of relatability that really contributes to the emotional scenes in the play. This depiction of the Irish experience also contributes largely to the more upbeat and comedic tones of the play, giving the audience an array of inside jokes almost that are unique to those growing up in Ireland right now.

All in all, Sophie, Ben and Other Problems is a highly enjoyable experience and will play with your emotions form start to finish. The way in which the both the actors and writer can manipulate audiences into laughing out loud one minute and feeling the tears flow the next is a great and skilful form of performance and one that is engaging all around throughout the play.

They say that its hard to make audiences feel sad and emotional, and that it is even harder to make an audience laugh. I assure you Sophie, Ben and Other Problems will have you doing both.

Lórcan O’Shea is a member of Kildare Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.

Lórcan is a 17-year old aspiring actor, writer and director currently living in Two Mile House, Naas. They are currently in their sixth year of secondary school in Newbridge. They joined Kildare Youth Theatre in late 2017 and have attended the Caliban workshop and weekly and have attended a youth exchange abroad in Logrono, Spain in the summer of 2018. They have performed in two plays, ‘The Seance’ (June Fest 2019) by Anthony Nielson and ‘By The Bog Of Cats’ by Marina Carr. They are currently in rehearsal for Chris Thompson’s ‘Dungeness’ as part of the Connections 2020 Festival. Lorcan also holds a strong passion for writing and is currently working on their first script and intends on directing their work at some point in the future. They have also recently started a podcast with a few fellow members of their youth theatre as a part of Kildare Youth Theatre’s Quarantine Festival, an event aimed at young adults expressing themselves from their homes in the absence of any workshops, creative outlets, etc. Lorcan hopes to meet others who share their passion for writing and drama and hopefully gain better knowledge of how to produce and create many forms of critiques through several forms of media.

Our next Young Critic Harry takes a look at Mr Sands Youth Theatre’s  production of The IT by Vivienne Frazmann 

At the start of the year I saw the Mr Sands junior youth theatre performing their rendition of The It as part of the National Theatre Connections 2020 festival.  This play was superbly written by Vivienne Frazmann with great moments of both seriousness and humour. The play follows the story of Grace, a teenage girl who has a monster growing inside of her due to her stressful life. This play shows a dark insight into the stressful lives of teenagers in today’s world, suffering with problems such as body image, identity, fear of the future and the world around her developing into anxiety. I am glad to see issues such as mental health are being publicized to greater audiences. The director had great use of coral segments for the cast and it really made the lines have an impact. The script was perfect and really suited the group. 

The set was very minimalistic; it consisted of around 17 stools. The stools were highly moveable which  allowed for quick scene and location changes and really enhanced the feeling of school life. They used every bit of  the  stage to their advantage so that the audience were not  always fixed on one person but were captivated  by the whole ensemble. 

The use of lighting and visual effects really strengthened the play as a whole. This was most notable during the night time scene were the cast slowly crawled towards the centre character of Grace only being illuminated by their phones. It was a spectacular sequence that created a eerie  image representing the effects of anxiety while hinting at the fact that mobile phones are the catalyst for it all. It was a powerful  message and the audience grasped the concept.  The background projections really worked in favour with the play and easily showed the setting of each scene. 

In the main, the costumes were realistic, with all wearing the same school uniforms. However there could have been some variety to represent the adult characters such as teacher, and the parents.   

All in all I believe the show was wonderful. I have to highlight the brilliant ensemble performance of the whole group. They worked really well off each other. It was real shame they didn’t get to take it on the road and get the opportunity to build on the great work they already presented on its first time out.

Harry Eaves a member of Mr. Sands Youth Theatre, Bray, Co.Wicklow and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.

Harry is an active member of the Mr Sands Youth theatre in Bray for 4 years. During his time he has participated in 4 plays and also produced a short film with his youth theatre . He has done many workshop with Mr Sands such as improvisational, Chekhov ,movement, ensemble building and character building work shops. He shows great enthusiasm for drama and the art and is looking forward to seeing and reviewing many shows and meeting other people who share his passion along the way.

Cosy at Firkin Crane – Reviewed by Sinéad Barry

Our Young Critics Online kicks off this Friday June 19th for our first ever online session. We’ll be meeting our 19 Young Critics for the very first time and starting our critical journey together.

For this week’s entry, Sinéad Barry from Lightbulb Youth Theatre in Co. recalls a production from the Cork Midsummer Festival, this time last year.

I attended the production ‘Cosy’ by Kaite O’Reilly in Firkin Crane in Cork last year. The production was about three generations of women as they tackle the topics of youth, ageing and death. Rose, the grandmother, wishes to die with dignity, and her idea of this is to take her own life in a way that she sees fit. Her three daughters and granddaughter arrive at the family home, where the story picks up. There are discussions of what makes a good death, with some slightly unorthodox methods of coming to a conclusion.

The Cast of Gaitkrash’s ‘Cosy’. Cork Midsummer Festival 2019.

 I really liked the grandmother’s character, Rose. At her core, she’s a sad and depressed woman who wants to be free from her ageing, failing body. She has an intense, emotional monologue in the final scene, where she reveals why she badly wants to take her own life.

I didn’t particularly enjoy a scene in which Rose and her Welsh friend attempt to ‘practice’ a method of suicide on Rose’s eldest daughter. I felt that the scene was unrealistic and came out of nowhere. Up until then, Rose didn’t seem like the type of person to so much as pretend to harm one of her own.

One aspect of the production I really enjoyed was the prominence of Rose’s antique chair. It was present in almost all scenes, and during Rose’s final monologue, she sat in the tall, imposing chair which emphasised just how small Rose was in that period of her life. Overall, I think it was a brilliant, if not macabre, production.

Sinéad Barry is a member of Lightbulb Youth Theatre, in Mallow, Co. Cork and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.

Sinéad has been a member of Lightbulb Youth theatre for six years and has been a part of five shows. Since joining, she has participated in several Midsummer Meet Ups, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, and has done various workshops related to this, such as Young Critics workshops. She participated in a script reading as part of an environmental awareness project in the UCC theatre building. Sinéad wants to gain a deeper understanding of the work that goes into making a production, learn to give constructive criticism, and meet new people.

Theatre in the Digital Age by Sarah Brett

For this week’s blog entry we’ve enlisted the help of Young Critics Alumna Sarah Brett. Sarah was a Young Critic way back in 2012 and in this blog post turns here attention to a current online offering.

Since its release on YouTube on May 11th , Shakespeare’s ​Macbeth ​has been viewed over 300,000 times by people all over the world coping through quarantine and isolation. Although it is a distinctly different medium to experience their works of art, Shakespeare’s Globe has been able to reach a vast amount of people in such a short time. Allowing people to enjoy the experience of live theatre on the silver screen is an idea that has been around for a while now, but is it the same?

Days before lockdown began, I had gone to see ​The Taming of the Shrew ​live in The Globe Theatre, London. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is neatly tucked away behind the Globe and has a magical, enchanting feel to it. Lit only by candles, the entire venue is beautifully crafted, with the audience and players thrust closely together creating an intimate performance. The players nestled themselves within the audience throughout the night and portrayed scene changes by adjusting the candlelight by hand. ​Taming of the Shrew​ required little or no props and had a very minimalistic set, the soft light coupled with the players movements was alluring and charming. The whole environment and atmosphere completely enhanced my experience of the performance.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

However the players themselves were not as captivating as I would have hoped, the normally wild and volatile nature of Katherine was dampened by Riggall’s performance which was static and unresponsive. When the players switch roles, there’s scarcely any change in physique or voice, remaining bland and unmoving. This begs the question, did the aesthetic of the venue contribute to my enjoyment of the play? Yes, I think so.

Michelle Terry in The Taming of the Shrew © Johan Persson

This week however, I sat down to watch Macbeth​ grace the stage of The Globe through the silver screen. As I drew the curtains and mimicked an auditorium as best I could, the experience wasn’t quite the same. Although both performed in neighbouring theatres and produced by the same company, my encounter of Macbeth​ was vastly contrasted by the memory of ​Taming of the Shrew​. Don’t get me wrong, it ​is​ bound to be different – after all this is why live theatre is still very much alive. However the freedom I had of checking my phone, running to the bathroom or shooting off to make a cup of tea was something that made the event quite mundane.​ ​The direction of the camera work included close up shots and different angles of the players themselves, as well as views of the audience and their reactions.

The decision to not have a static view of the stage was something I personally did not enjoy. For digital theatre to be convincing it should mimic a live performance as much as it can, otherwise why not just produce movie versions of the same plays? After all, there are reasons why we choose to experience live theatre over our cinema counterparts. Cressida Brown’s portrayal of the King of Scotland’s story was enjoyable and captivating, her use of modern props and musical numbers created a witty and easy-to-follow production – losing none of its original essence in the process. The version itself is an excellent one for young people, and the decision to have this so readily available online was actually for the sake of this demographic completing their GSCE’s and schoolwork. Knowing that The Globe is not headed in this direction for good is comforting in a sense.

Ekow Quartey as Macbeth. Photo credit: Ellie Kurtz

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the experiences of both to match up equally, and I am not fully against the idea of watching theatre at home. Being 25 years old, I have essentially grown up with technology all around me. With everyday entertainment so easily accessible at a whim, we should treasure the opportunities we get to see players work hard at these live performances. What I love most about theatre is the transmission of emotion from stage to audience. Yes, it can be achieved through the screen too, but there is something magical about seeing a human on stage deliver you those feelings.

Like I said, the idea of digital theatre is not new, Cinemas up and down the country have been broadcasting ​National Theatre Live​ via satellite for a several years now, not to mention nearly every concession stand at ​The Bord Gais Theatre s​elling DVDs of the performance on stage. However this is the first time in recent history where most of us don’t have a choice anymore. We are being forced to stay inside for the good of our health, so getting our fix of theatre comes in the form of onscreen productions. It’s not the worst option, and it definitely keeps us entertained, but my biggest fear is that this will become the new norm. With the dangers of the virus, it might be a long time before we get to gather inside an auditorium together again.

With entertainment all around us in different media, we should hold on to the unique experiences we have like heading to see and experience a show. We should remember the incredible feeling when sitting in the audience eagerly waiting for a show to begin, remembering that theatre is diverse, exciting, intimate and uplifting, sometimes these feelings just don’t translate through the screen. I don’t know about you, but when we are free to leave our homes, the theatre is the first place I want to go.

Sarah is a 25 year old Finance Manager from Dublin – not as boring as she sounds, promise! She took part in Young Critics in 2012 and was also a member of Clondalkin Youth Theatre in her teenage years, before leaving to study Computer Science in college. Although education and career wise she took different paths, her love for the Arts has never left. When not working, you’ll catch her regularly attending the Theatre, reading, painting or just listening to a nice ‘oul podcast!