Two weeks ago, Youth Theatre members took their first steps towards becoming Young Critics. Over the weekend of the 6th to the 8th of April, 16 youth theatre members met for the first time and bonded over a love of critical review.
After viewing two plays which sat at two very different ends of the performance art spectrum – The Unmanageable Sisters being a lighthearted comedy with a dark, fiery underbelly and Tryst being a heavy trip of stretched moral ambiguity and rapid-fire accusations, twists and reveals. But these plays were conjoined in topical themes – such as relationships and abortion – that left the budding critics fair ground to compare and discuss.
Discussion ran rampant, with healthy engagement of differing views and opinions fueling debate and insightful commentary. Despite the group being divided over which play they preferred, this never truly divided the group, but actually helped build critical thinking, while also teaching how to hold ground and justify an opinion – something very important for a critic.
The social backdrop a program like Young Critics sets itself upon proved no obstacle, with participants going from first greetings to Shakespearean murder in a couple of hours. Everything grew from here, especially back at the hostel. Jenga tested trust the first night, but nothing compares to what came the second – Monopoly, a tale of cheating, robbery and extortion. Some riddles were thrown about, and tunes banged out on a guitar.
This, paired with the program pushing for further exploration of the digital space, could lead to collaborative theatre reviews in the form of video & podcast. An exciting new frontier awaits the program, and this young critic cannot wait to see where this goes.
William McCabe is a member of Griese Youth Theatre in Balitore, Co.Kildare and is a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2018.
Aaron Dobson from Leitrim Youth Theatre Company, Carrigallen shares this review of Class by Iseult Golden and David Horan
Classrooms are some of the most popular scenarios for plays – whether it be a story of a trip to the boarding school (Daisy Pulls It Off by Denise Deegan), or a teacher faced with the duty of educating youth (Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is a great example), the classroom is the perfect closed-off space for many a show. But one thing that I have never seen worked upon on the big stage is a parent-teacher meeting – and CLASS does this to perfection, and more. You could almost say…. It’s a CLASS act.
Puns aside, this production was one of the most phenomenal experiences I have had from a small-cast production in a while. The setting never changes. The tension never changes. The actors never change…but their characters do. The story revolves around Brian and Donna (played by Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris) and the struggles they face bringing up their children in a broken relationship. The standing point in the story is that their 9-year old child, Jayden, is having troubles at school – and his teacher (Will O’Connell) is intending to enforce learning support upon him, which brings great grief onto Brian specifically.
Now this alone would make for an interesting story. The could have stopped here, added little else, and the play would still be a triumph and an excellent piece of writing. But co-writers David Horan and Iseult Golden, under Horan’s direction, deserve extra appraisal for going beyond this one idea and adventuring into unknown territory. At first I was worried when I heard about the actors “reverting into the younger generation”. However, when I first seen Brian transform into Jayden and Donna into the child of a drug addict, I knew this was something special. Their childlike states gave myself and the audience the information we needed about the situation at hand without a word spoken by the parents.
The teacher himself faces some sort of internal conflict – between his own personal matters, the slowly derailing meeting and the children’s situation at their learning support. It was interesting to note how he deals with both children and parents, despite them being the same actors – For example, their transition from a dance routine to a tense, nervous situation between the same trio. This transition was flawless – especially with the parents and their kids, who could revert from being hilariously out of tune with the rest of the world to stern, stubborn, angry at the world and ever situation around them.
The ending alone was one of the key points of the play, and possibly the part that shook me the most. Of course I won’t spoil it, but it finally became clear the true nature of Donna and Brian’s relationship, and the root of the majority of the problems faced throughout the play. Ultimately, the experience was riveting and exciting, with comedic moments scattered throughout the play – but the true focus and underlying messages of terror in a school environment and possible mental issues stuck strong with me, and for this I would thoroughly recommend seeing this play.
Class will be returning to the Peacock Stage in January and Molly Foley from Activate Youth Theatre has this review from its October showing.
This new play, written and directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan is in many ways quite simple. The set is realistic and the plot is a straightforward narrative, with only three actors playing the five characters established in the piece. Despite this, Class is one of the most engaging, enjoyable and thematically-rich plays I’ve seen in a long time.
The story is that of two working-class parents, Brian (Stephen Jones) and Donna (Sarah Morris), who are called in to their son, Jayden’s school to talk with his middle-class teacher, Ray McCafferty (Will O’Connell). The parent-teacher meeting that unfolds is broken up with scenes of Mr. McCafferty’s interactions with Jayden and another student in his class during which Jones and Morris seamlessly take on the roles of the two children. These relationships develop and change as these characters deal with internal resentments and face a variety of issues that arise through the play.
The play manages do deal with issues of social class and notions of status subtly without hammering in an established opinion or belief. Instead, it is a perfect example of ‘show don’t tell’, starting a conversation through real, flawed and relatable characters, each with valid motivations, opinions and outlooks. It does not paint characters as ‘good or ‘bad’ and doesn’t depict anyone as in the right or the wrong. Those decisions are left in the hands of the audience and I believe that by the end of the 75 minutes, most viewers will have had at least one moment of sympathy and/or identification with each character in the play.
Class feels like a very down to earth play that knows what it is setting out to do and does it well without any self-importance. Although the plot develops in very unexpected and extreme ways, it never feels like it is being dramatic for drama’s sake.
At its heart this show is an exercise in empathy, not asking for audiences to choose or change sides, but just to listen and perhaps to briefly find themselves in the shoes of others.
I would consider this show a must see. With a sharp, well written script and stunning performances, this show is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. Five stars.
Molly Foley is a member of Activate Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2017.
Class returns to the Abbey Theatre for a limited run from January 24th 2018.
As 2017 comes to an end we’re taking the opportunity to post some reviews from our Young Critics.
In total the Young Critics saw 15 shows this year. These include the six they saw in Dublin as part of Young Critics as well shows in the Abbey Theatre, their local venues, The Edinburgh Fringe and even the West End in London.
First up Lara Cody from Explore Youth Theatre gives us her impression of Room
I went to see the production of Room in the Abbey Theatre with high expectations. The production was first an international best selling novel which won many awards. This was then brought to screen and finally stage. The many awards Emma Donoghue’s writing has won, along with many positive comments from friends and family led me to expect a heartbreaking and moving production that will bring me to tears. I was not disappointed.
Room tells the story of ‘Ma’ (Witney White), a young woman who was abducted at 19, she was held in a shed made into an all-purpose room, where she was beaten, raped and impregnated and her 5 year old son Jack (Darmani Eboji). The production begins with a light atmosphere as Ma and Jack go about their daily routines. It seems that everything is perfectly fine and there is no mention of ‘Old Nick’, their captor. Once Jack is asleep, we see the distress and frustration of Ma. The light atmosphere changes dramatically to a much darker, somber mood as Old Nick (Liam McKenna) steps into the room. The mood becomes increasingly darker and tense as the first half progresses and Ma is becomes more desperate to escape the room. The building tension climaxes in an incredibly powerful song sung by Ma. It left me clinging on to the edge of my seat, completely blown away and consumed by the performance and production. I did not want it to stop for the interval!
One thing that I was sceptical about was the musical aspect of the production. I was not sure how they would turn such a tragic story into a musical as there have been productions where the added musical interpretation has taken away from the powerful tale. However, I was happily surprised by the incredible music that most certainly added to the overall production. The moving and breathtaking ballads by Ma allowed us an insight into her thoughts and emotions, as the story is told from Jack’s perspective. I must admit that it was the musical talents of Witney White (Ma), Fela Lufadeju (Big Jack), Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph (Composers) that brought me to tears and left me talking about the production days after.
The clever device of splitting the part of Jack into ‘Little Jack’ and ‘Big Jack’ was a great success. The use of a child actor allowed us to witness the innocence of a child along with accurately representing the intimate and protective relationship of a mother and child, while the older actor allowed us to see how imaginative, colourful, curious and questioning Jack is. This was a brilliant way to solve the problem of a child actor carrying the responsibility of such a big part. This Abbey Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East co-production was a great success and received a well deserved standing ovation. ‘Room’ deals with themes such as abduction, rape and depression in a powerful way, leaving the audience speechless and thinking of the production for days after. 5 stars.
Lara Coady is a member of Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip Co.Kildare. She was a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2017.
Meanwhile Cian McGrath from Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Tralee has this to say on Room.
Room is, at its heart, a play about love; more specifically, the love between a mother and her son. In Room these two characters are forced to endure their existence in a single room, with no contact from the outside world. One would think that this would allow for a great amount of empathy and emotional connection. But this play can only grasp for such emotion through contrived, over-sentimentalised scenes, whose only feeling it can evoke in this viewer is boredom and annoyance.
Room begins with our narrator, Big Jack (Fela Lufadeju) who narrates the daily process behind life in what is simply known as ‘Room’. This is when our two principal characters are introduced; Ma (Whitney White) and Little Jack (Harrison Wilding). This mother and son duo go about their daily routine in the most over-enthusiastic method possible; which should serve as a hint for the forced emotion the play tries to pry out of its audience as it progresses. Their rudimentary schedule is played out with such happiness that one would expect both characters to break out in song at any moment; fortunately, this is not the case.
Not much information is revealed about our characters’ situation, but as the play progresses we realise that Ma was kidnapped years ago, and that inside Room she gave birth to Jack, her five-year old son. Her kidnapper, known only as Old Nick, is Jack’s biological father. And yet at no point are any of the real emotions behind captivity revealed; both mother and son simply go about their day with larger than life enthusiasm, except when they engage in shouting matches with one another. Little Jack’s thoughts are occasionally conveyed by Big Jack, but this is just another diversion; as the play progresses Big Jack’s role diminishes significantly.
This is essentially the major flaw of Room; its need for emotional intensity means that as the play progresses each scene invariably ends with someone shouting out in anger or hurt. In no scene are there ever any moments of quiet reflection; through mere dialogue the play becomes a bombardment of sound, and an assault on the viewer. At no point does this drama offer us a moment of silence, which could at least punctuate the passionate intensity of emotion displayed in other scenes. Room can’t seem to function without scenes in which characters bring themselves to the highest point of their emotional brevity, only for the next scene to begin with the same normal, regular emotion only to catapult into another barrage of furious shouting in an endless, tiring pattern.
Onstage there is a large box which represents Room, the enclosed space in which Jack and Ma are confined to. And yet it never feels as though they are trapped in a confined space; there is nothing claustrophobic about Room’s set. Instead, it opts for a more unconventional approach; the set serves as something malleable, at one point even revolving. But while these may seem like ingenious techniques, they soon grow tiresome and are little more than gimmicks to make up for the play’s other deficiencies. Its interesting movements may captivate at first, but like the play, they do nothing to enforce the idea of entrapment or claustrophobia. Instead, they feel like little more than a smaller stage built solely for the purpose of flashy diversions.
Ultimately Room is a failure, due to its inability to understand the limits of emotion. Its scenes of emotional intensity play out in dizzying fashion, with each one further reinforcing the play’s lack of knowledge about an audience’s capacity for empathy. Room wants to be a rollercoaster of emotions, but ultimately it is a collection of missed notes and woeful script making decisions that only alienate any potential viewer. Witnessing it is like living through Groundhog Day; the reason for it may change, but each scene begins without any sense of what tone will be conveyed throughout, and will ultimately end in another failed attempt at emotional connection.
Its deficiencies can be effectively captured in one scene in the play’s first act, in which Jack counts as far as he can to avoid having to hear any noise outside his room. Outside his closet a rape scene occurs between Old Nick and Ma, and it is clear that this is a regular occurrence in their lives. As this is happening the stage revolves, as Jack’s counting is timed with the creaking of the bed outside his closet.
The whole thing becomes a twisted, sordid game and a parody of the emotion it tries to provoke. As the set continues to revolve onstage, the play has veered off wildly, and is far removed from the realm of emotional relatability.
Room is essentially that; a revolving stage with a clear target, but one that can never effectively grasp it. Its diversions can only go so far as to distract the viewer from it’s clear problem in conveying emotion.
Cian McGrath is a member of Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Tralee, Co.Kerry and a Youth Theatre Young Critics for 2017.
The Young Critics Panel discussion took place at Project Cube on Sunday Oct 8th as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Listen to full audio here are our panelists discuss three shows in front of a live audience. Chaired by Helen Meany.
Our Panelists were:
The Second Violinist
Tadhg Carey – Celbridge Youth Drama, Co. Kildare
Molly Foley – Activate Youth Theatre, Cork
Cian McGrath – Free Radicals Youth Theatre, Tralee, Co. Kerry
Aaron Dobson – Leitrim Youth Theatre Company, Carrigallen
David Quinn – Monaghan Youth Theatre
Sean McManus – Dublin Youth Theatre
Lara Coady – Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare
Caoimhe Kenny – Roscommon County Youth Theatre
Luke Murphy – Lightbulb Youth Theatre, Mallow, Co.Cork
Vanessa Byrne – Mayo Youth Theatre
Kiara Toal – Monaghan Youth Theatre
Ella McGill – Complex Youth Theatre, Dublin
With the Dublin Theatre Festival starting today we are gearing up for Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics to return once again to the DTF.
Since April, the Young Critics have been honing their critical skills through workshops and online discussion with the support of professional theatre critics and facilitators. They have also been seeing lots of theatre, collaborating with a group of Scottish Young Critics and creating their own criticism in familiar and unusual forms…
The Young Critics, representing youth theatre from all over Ireland, come together from Oct 6th – 8th, to see a number of shows, and take part in the Young Critics Panel on Sunday Oct 8th.
The three productions the Young Critics are going to see are:
With Young Critics representing Kerry, Kildare, Cork, Leitrim,Dublin, Monaghan, Mayo and Roscommon there are workshops, lively discussions and the Young Critics Panel itself. Here the Young Critics will get the opportunity to voice their considerable opinion on the work of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Creative Commons is a 2-year project funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme. It provides Youth Theatre Ireland and Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, our sister organisation in Scotland, with the opportunity to share best practice across sectors and build new resources in Young Critics practice and Young Leader mentorship and skills development.
The Young Critics International Exchange brought 24 together from Ireland and Scotland for five days in Dublin. During the Easter holidays, the group took part in workshops and saw a number of professional productions at theatres across the city.
Luke Murphy from Lightbulb Youth Theatre in Mallow, Co. Cork was selected to take part in the programme.
Here Luke reflects on those five days in Dublin.
“Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics International Exchange 2017 was a fantastic experience that both provided skills in forming critical opinions on theatre, as well as exploring the different means of doing so. What resulted was five enjoyable days in Dublin city.
Arriving at the GPO, I met up with 13 other Irish youth theatre members, as well as some of the staff from Youth Theatre Ireland. Immediately I was faced with a whole group of friendly people who seemed just as excited for the week’s events as I was. We travelled to the Marino Institute, which was where our workshops and accommodation were located. Upon arriving, we met an additional ten youth theatre members from Scotland. This were all members of groups affiliated to Youth Theatre Arts Scotland. One of the things that impressed me the most about the experience was how well everyone got along, and how quickly friendships formed.
Of course, the workshops were a great way of achieving this. We would each get our own time to express opinions of the various productions we saw, as well as what we were expecting prior to the performances. I found that discussing theatre can be just as exciting as watching it live. It was incredible to see the different perspectives from which people approached the shows we saw. The best thing about the workshops, was how they felt at the same time both a focused discussion on a piece of theatre, and a casual chat about a play.
The shows in question were The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Silent, and The Train. I think overall everyone enjoyed the productions, whether it was viewing them or discussing their reactions afterwards. The plays were very diverse in themes and style, from one man shows to musicals. This allowed us to review different types of theatre, and the elements that these consisted of.
We were guided by a professional group of leaders, who each had their own experience in theatre. They helped us structure reviews, and explore modes of reviewing other than writing, for example vlogging and podcasts. They were very friendly and approachable, accepting questions on how to improve our own skills.
Each day held a new experience. The workshops were unique, each focusing on particular skills crucial to a critic. We also had the chance to explore parts of Dublin city, and enter some of the most famous theatres in the country, such as The Abbey and The Gaiety. I’d never been to any of these theatres before, so getting to see productions in them was a great experience.
I can genuinely say the I made great friends and memories at Young Critics 2017 and I hope to continue the experience in the months to come, between discussing theatre online, and meeting up with the other young critics once again at the Dublin Theatre Festival. I am delighted to be involved in this project, and it has really peaked my interest in theatre, as well as how to critique it.”
Luke and his fellow young critics will be seeing some shows at their local venues over the summer. They will be making critical responses and we will be posting a selection of them here over the coming months. You can follow the exploits of the Scottish Young Critics here
Creative Commons: Working together to support youth theatre development
Young Critics International Exchange 2017
NAYD are looking for 14 young people, aged 16 – 20, with an interest in learning about and developing skills in creative criticism in theatre.
NAYD is delighted to be partnering with Youth Theatre Arts Scotland to run a 5-day Young Critics International Exchange in Dublin. Part of a 3-year joint project called Creative Commons supported by the European Union via its Erasmus+ programme, the exchange will support each young person to develop their individual critical response process, their understanding of theatre and an individual voice.
When? Monday 10 – Friday 14 April 2017
CREATIVE COMMONS PROGRAMME
As a Young Critic, you will join 13 other young people from all over Ireland and 10 young people from Scotland in Dublin from April 10th – 14th.
Over the 5 action-packed days, participants will have fun getting to know each other, attend theatre productions, participate in a series of workshops and discussions as well as exploring the theatres and city of Dublin. Accommodation and workshops will be based at the Marino Institute of Education.
Participants are given the opportunity to see quality productions and develop their critical silks under the mentorship of professional theatre critics Dr. Karen Fricker and Gareth Vile. Workshops will be facilitated by NAYD’s Youth Theatre Officer Alan King and YTAS Theatre Practitioner Amy Watt.
In addition, there will be Young Critics activities taking place in the months after the International Exchange. Participants will continue the critical conversation on the Young Critics Blog where they will be encouraged to see, and make critical responses to, local productions.
The Irish group will come together in a similar way in October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
The Scottish group will come together again for a weekend in August to take part in a series of workshops and to see productions at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to build and hone the critical and creative skills developed in April.
At the end of the project, participants will qualify for a Youthpass, which is a European award recognizing non-formal and informal learning in youth work.
No prior experience is necessary, just an enthusiasm for learning and collaborating! We are looking for young people who are comfortable meeting new people, working in a highly focused way and are not afraid to share their thoughts and opinions with each other.
• Applicants must be aged 16 – 20 on 1 April 2017.
• Applicants must be a current member of an NAYD affiliated Youth Theatre.
• Selected participants must be fully available from Monday 10 – Friday 14 April 2017 inclusive, willing to continue the critical conversation online and attend a follow up weekend event as part of Dublin Theatre Festival in October (dates tbc).
HOW TO APPLY
In order to offer individual advice and guidance on developing each young person’s critical skills, places on the programme are limited to 24 (14 from Ireland and 10 from Scotland)
We are looking for young people who are comfortable meeting new people, working in a highly focused way and are not afraid to share their thoughts and opinions with each other.
For full details on how to apply please download our information pack and application form here . Please provide us with the information asked for on the form and post your application no later than 5pm on Monday 6 February 2017. You can answer the application questions in writing or if you prefer via a video or voice recording (no longer than 2-3 minutes).
If you have any questions, please contact Alan King
Closing Date For Applications is 5pm Monday 6 February 2017
It’s almost two month since the Young Critics panel discussion at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Pierce McNee from Dundalk reflects on three action packed days in Dublin.
Friday Oct 7th 2016
It was an eventful afternoon in Dublin, as ever. Across the street a drum was was being beaten and a group of dancers performed to a large crowd. We were all reunited at the GPO and it felt like an age since the last time we had all seen each other. A great feeling came upon us all as we knew we were in for an absolute treat of a weekend.
We could not wait!
We made our way to the Dublin Fringe Festival Lab, where we had our first workshop discussing what the Dublin Theatre Festival is, the different elements of the festival and what makes it different from going to see a play which is not running at a theatre festival. We also discussed the Project Arts Centre and its history.
After having some tasty pizza and further discussions, we headed over to the Project Arts Centre to see our first show of the weekend: Wishful Beginnings. This was a show that I think we can all safely say we will never forget!
After the show we made our way back to the Marino Institute of Education whilst having intense post-show discussions as a group about Wishful Beginnings. This was by far the most interesting discussion I’ve had about a play as every single one of us had a different opinion. Some people loved it and some people hated. Not only that but everyone had their own ideas in regards to the themes explored in the show and how they were explored.
We returned to Marino and got ready for bed. Not one of us could cease to ponder on Wishful Beginnings.
Sat Oct 8th 2016
The next morning we had our second workshop where we discussed the history of the two most well known theatres in Ireland: The Abbey Theatre and The Gate Theatre. We talked about the nature of the plays they showcase and their target audience, as well as many other areas.
We would be going to see a play in the Gate that day. The play was called The Father. We discussed this play as well as our second play of the day: Alien Documentary, which was a piece of documentary theatre. This was something that I had never seen before.
After this, we went to see The Father. We also had the opportunity to meet with some of the stars of the show, Owen Roe, Fiona Bell and Peter Gaynor backstage. We had the chance to ask them some questions about the show.
We then had lunch in the NAYD offices. This was hugely interesting as we got to see the workplace of the people who are in charge of all youth drama across Ireland.
Next it was off to the Jervis shopping centre for a quick spot of window-shopping and hot-chocolate drinking. It was then time for Alien Documentary. This was was being staged in the Project Arts Centre. When we got there I proceeded to take a quick trip to the toilet. As I was about entering the toilets, who did I meet? None other than PJ Gallagher himself. The famous Irish comedian and actor. He would be starring in Alien Documentary.
I will now be known by him as “that lad I met coming out of the jacks”!
When we got back to Marino, we all contributed eagerly to conversations on the plays we had seen that day. We also indulged in a few delicious chocolate treats to fuel our talks.
Sunday Oct 9th
On Sunday morning, we had one final workshop where we discussed each play we had seen and gave our opinions on them. We then prepared ourselves for our final Young Critics task: taking part in the NAYD Young Critics Panel.
This was where we were split into groups based on which of the three plays we wished to speak about. I decided that that I would like to speak about The Father. We would be giving our opinions and discussing the play in front of an audience of roughly fifty people and Dr. Karen Fricker would chair the discussions.
First we participated in a mock panel with Karen in order to become familiar with what the proceedings would involve. I was slightly nervous but I knew that I would have my Young Critics colleagues as well as Karen and Alan there to support me.
We concluded the panel with an opportunity for audience members to ask us, the Young Critics, any questions they had regarding the plays we had seen or any element of the Young Critics experience.
As soon as the Q&A session ended, we all came to the realisation that our time on the NAYD Young Critics Programme had now finished. We all had an immensely melancholic feeling. However, we knew that we would all remain friends and chat regularly. We also knew that we would keep in contact with Alan King and the NAYD. Our time as NAYD Young Critics might have come to an end but our time as young critics outside of the programme had only just begun.
This has been a truly incredible experience for me. I would like to thank Alan King and Dr. Karen Fricker. As well as Debbie, Graham, Ciara and everyone at the NAYD for making the programme possible. I would recommend the NAYD Young Critics Programme to absolutely everyone.
Pierce McNee is a member of Dundalk Youth Theatre and was an NAYD Young Critic for 2016