Review of Guests of the Nation

By Ethan Mallon

Photos by Enrique Carnicero

Derived from the Frank O’Connor short story published in 1931 and first adapted to the stage by Neil McKenzie in 1958, Guests of the Nation made its way to the stage once again for the Cork Midsummer Festival in June. Brought to life through the talents of director Pat Kiernan and writer Kevin Barry, this new adaptation both instilled its own distinct flavour to the casting and direction whilst still retaining the spirit and bite of O’Connor’s original work. Set during the Irish War for Independence, Guests of the Nation chronicles the story of 4 soldiers; two Irish, two British, as they struggle with the trials and tribulations of the war whilst inevitably hurtling towards the death of the latter by execution.

Right from the word go I was engaged by the stark humanity portrayed in the imprisoned British soldiers as they grappled with their impending fates. Whereas the majority of works depicting the War for Independence would entirely portray the British in a negative light, Barry’s script offers a more morally grey portrayal of the Brit’s, bringing into question the morale of the IRA ironically. This is not to imply that the former approach is inherently a negative, see Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley for what can be achieved with such an approach, but to put emphasis not on the frankly psychotic slaughter of civilians often enacted by the Black & Tans but instead the humanity of those caught up in the torture and bloodshed that ultimately had no direct ties to such barbaric actions was an impressive and bold choice.

Of course a distinct element of this adaptation I have otherwise overlooked thus far would be the all-female cast with Gina Moxley, Liz Fitzgibbon, Amy Conroy and Chloe O’Reilly portraying the IRA and British soldiers respectively. Any potential scepticism was swiftly dashed out as the play began proper, as all four women did a phenomenal job engrossing me into the narrative. I can’t say for certain whether this was a direct decision by the creative team, but it made me think during and after the show about how certain gender archetypes influence how people may make casting decisions. This isn’t to say that masculine men or feminine women for instance aren’t still present in the modern world of course, but the assumption that everyone of both genders only fall into certain demographics is simply misguided, something this show fortunately goes against the grain on.

Another key aspect of this iteration of the story is that it is not squarely resigned to the stage for its entirety, rather the audience is taking across the city of Cork much as the characters go across the Irish countryside. Not only does this result in an incredibly distinct vibe to the proceedings than I have ever seen in any stage production thus far, but it also allows the audience some time, albeit brief, to muse on the characters actions and the trajectory of the narrative. It’s not as if most stage shows don’t have a standard intermission of course, but those are usually during the middle point. By making the audience go from place to place at three separate intervals gives more instances to ponder on the story at hand and what is trying to be conveyed.

Overall I’d say that this new iteration of Guests of the Nation has more than surpassed my expectations. Through adapting O’Connor’s new work whilst integrating their own distinct elements, Kiernan and Barry have simultaneously revamped the show in some ways for a modern audience whilst still retaining the spirit of the original short story, of which still retains a strong potency a little over ninety years after its first publication.

Ethan Mallon is a member of Act Out Youth Theatre in Co. Meath and is a Young Critic for 2022.

Review of A Safe Passage

By Andrew Keegan

Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

On the surface, “A Safe Passage” is an uncomplicated, transparent tale of a humble lighthouse keeper, a troubled young adult, and how the two come to form a deep, unlikely relationship that will ultimately change both of their lives, forever. 
 
“A Safe Passage”, written by Irene Kelleher and directed by Geoff Gould, follows two protagonists. Christy, played by Seamus O’Rourke, is a reserved and unremarkable man, who lives out his days guiding those at sea. Alongside Christy, we also follow a peculiar and unpredictable young woman known as Marilyn, played by the formerly mentioned Irene Kelleher. Throughout the sixty-minute run time, we watch as the two gradually begin to develop a bond as the pair come to know more about each other and their past. 
 
 
The production is set in 1979, New Year’s Eve, and immediately I must commend the set designer, Hannah Lane for her clever inclusion of props and other objects, such as the long-outdated radio and lantern. The use of these props allows the audience to comfortably immerse themselves fully into the show.  
 
As well as the set production, audio design plays a vital role. Sounds effects such as the crackling of the radio, can be used to convey a sense of isolation and loneliness. Another example includes the exaggerated rattling of the spilled pills hitting against the floor, which creates an uneasy atmosphere among the audience. 
 
“A Safe Passage” explores many themes throughout its duration, these being, ‘the devastating effects of isolation’, the ‘importance of human connection’, and ‘overwhelming guilt’. In my opinion, I feel that not only does the production convey these themes effectively but does so in a delicate manner as they are real world issues that affect countless people.  
 
At its core, “A Safe Passage” is a gut-wrenching, somber story of two individuals embracing their sorrow together. With passionate acting, black comedy and a gripping plot, every audience member is bound to leave the theatre astonished and wholeheartedly satisfied.

Andrew Keegan is a member of Fracture Youth Theatre in Thurles Co. Tipperary and is a Young Critic for 2022.

Introducing the Young Critics 2022!

Youth Theatre Ireland are delighted to announce this year’s Young Critics from 14 different youth theatres across the country!

The Young Critics is one of Youth Theatre Ireland’s longest running programmes and sees 16 youth theatre members come together to learn about theatre criticism and response. The programme this year is led by Alan King, Rebecca Feely, and esteemed academic and theatre critic Dr. Karen Fricker.

The Young Critics 2022 are:

MaryJane O’Connor O’Leary, Activate Youth Theatre, Co. Cork

Dearbhla McCormick, Monaghan Youth Theatre

Liam O’Neill, Dreamstuff Youth Theatre, Co. Kilkenny

Yasna Tofail, Limerick Youth Theatre

Helen McCarthy, Explore Youth Theatre, Co. Kildare

Chaya Smyth, Dublin Youth Theatre

Cian Griffin, WACT Youth Theatre, Co. Wexford

Amelie Prone, Kildare Youth Theatre

James Acheson Dennehy, Stagecraft Youth Theatre, Co. Tipperary

Keeley Guilfoyle, Clare Youth Theatre

Andrew Keegan, Fracture Youth Theatre, Co. Tipperary

Ethan Mallon, Act Out Youth Theatre, Co. Meath

Mia Clinch, Sligo Youth Theatre

Molly Crilly, Act Out Youth Theatre, Co. Meath

Nneka Okosi, MAD Youth Theatre, Co. Louth

Becca McGlone, Sligo Youth Theatre

This year the crew have already been to the Cork Midsummer Festival where they saw A Safe Passage by Irene Kelleher, Guests of the Nation by CorcaDorca, and they also had the opportunity to see some visual art installations across the city.

The Young Critics will come together again from October 7th-9th for Dublin Theatre Festival, and the weekend will culminate with a panel discussion at The Project Arts Centre on October 9th at 1pm. Tickets are free and you can find out more on Dublin Theatre Festival’s website.

You can find out more about the Young Critics programme and other programmes for youth theatre members here.

Aftertaste Review By Pádraig Harrington

In our latest review, Youth Theatre Ireland’s own National Youth Theatre production comes under the watchful eye of the Young Critics gaze.

Aftertaste by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth is a thought-provoking, original piece that takes a well-timed look at a dystopian near future without any sugar-coating. 

Aftertaste is the culmination of 22 young people aged 16-20 from Youth Theatres across the country working together to celebrate the National Youth Theatre, an event organized by Youth Theatre Ireland and supported by the Abbey Theatre. This production is especially made for YouTube and was intended to be watched as a pre-record rather than as a live stream or in a theatre. It is  directed by National Youth Theatre Director Veronica Coburn.

The play is set in an Ireland where the National Alliance Party have rose to power led by President Sanbrooke Martin (Samuel Ferrie) on the one-year anniversary of the passing of the Health and Wellness Act, banning foods with a high sugar or fat content. As a result of this, many are left starving and Junk Advocates have arisen, people eating illegal foods on their social media accounts and condemning the government. Several of these Advocates have been going missing, including 21-year-old Lila Birch (Daisy Hartigan) who has been missing for 6 days. Lila’s sister, Eadie Birch (Ella O’Callaghan) is getting no answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, there is internal strife within the National Alliance Party; Vice-President Jana Kaminski (Julia Szarota) is vying for President Martin’s position and journalist Oisín Ó Hanluain (Odhran Exton) is seeking to undermine the President’s policies. 

These various political operatives, movie stars and the staff of The Royal Marine Restaurant eventually collide in a moment of frenzy at an ill- fated anniversary dinner honouring President Martin.

The excellent ensemble is completed by Caoimhe O’Farrell, Abbi Breen, Sadhbh McDonough, Tristan Spellman Molphy, Matthew Eglinton, Abhainn Harrington, Max Mufwasoni, Cara Mooney, Adam Henry, Aileen Broidy and Seán Loughrey.  

The actors had to overcome the obstacle of a pre-recorded performance and convey a realistic portrayal of an authoritarian regime. They were able to do this whilst maintaining a certain amount of levity. We were given a detailed overview of this darker life from multiple societal perspectives, political leaders and glamorous celebrities to the everyday people who are affected by their actions. Overall, the actors more than deliver on their attempts to engage, entertain and make us think. 

Sets were not heavily integral to this production and most often simple plain colour backgrounds were used with some exceptions. Basic props such as chairs, tables or podiums were used to set the scene. The politicians’ costumes are bright pinky-purple pastel colours while in comparison the outfits of the ordinary people are drab, dreary shades of brown. We also see the uniforms of The Royal Marine, crisp, professional attire. The work of lighting designer Suzzi Cummins is bright and powerful, stimulating the viewer and evoking emotional reactions. Sound designer Sinead Diskin and visual designer Cherie White work in tandem to provide an intense, rhythmic audio coupled with striking visuals which works together to pump up the audience and bring across the broader feelings of the piece. I think these various components combine to form a strong, successful use of design. 

In closing, Aftertaste is a unique play that peers into the darker sides of wellbeing and healthy eating. This is a show that cannot be missed. 

Aftertaste was broadcast on the Abbey Theatre’s YouTube Channel from Aug 8th- 15th 2021. Produced by Youth Theatre Ireland.

Pádraig is a member of Rusty Frog Youth Theatre, in Skibbereen, Co. Cork and is a Young Critic for 2021.

The River of WTF – a Podcast from the Young Critics

For our latest Young Critics podcast, four of our Young Critics sat down to discuss The River of Forgetfulness.

This far ranging discussion covers the  Outside the March Theatre  production, which was part of a 4 piece anthology called The Stream You Step In.

https://anchor.fm/alan1102/embed/episodes/The-River-of-WTF-e14o6qh/a-a67m9a6

This podcast was done as part of Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics programme.

This podcast was recorded and produced by Young Critic Aodhán from POD Youth Theatre. Contributors were Aleisha from Making Waves YT, Chloe from Dreamstuff YT & Holly from Droichead YT.

Thank You For Your Labour Reviewed by Evie

Continuing with our look at the Outside the March and University of Windsor collaboration, The Stream You Step in, Evie reviews Thank You For Your Labour by Marcus Youssef for Young Critics.

The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom.

Through the project, OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.

Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef A group of white students is organizing an online music show to show solidarity with their racialized peers. For tonight’s meeting, they’ve invited the faculty’s only brown student to join them. Good intentions meet unspoken desires in this Zoom comedy about whiteness, isolation, and how hard it can be to do the right thing.

Directed by Mitchell Cushman Featuring: Caitlin Jasulaitis, Alannah Pedde, Elena Reyes, Brennan Roberts.

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

The Stream You Step In – Reviewed by the Young Critics.

For our latest reviews, the Young Critics were able to watch recordings of two of the four productions from The Stream You Step In.

This co-production from The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom. Through the project, OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.

The shows under review are Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef and Karen Hines’ The River of Forgetfulness.

Thank You For Your Labour; A Stunningly Relevant Online Theatre Piece By Éabha Phelan

Thank You for Your Labour, written by Marcus Youseff, is a thought-provoking and bluntly realistic piece about the repercussions of forced allyship and performative activism.

In creating Thank You for Your Labour, Toronto-based theatre company, Outside The March, in collaboration with the University of Windsor, have created a relatable and almost immersive zoom-play experience that will have the audience rethinking their approach to modern politics. The play shows three white students, Meghan (Caitlin Jasulaitis), Emily (Alannah Pedde), and Steven (Brennan Roberts), discussing what they plan to do for their University’s concert in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. In an effort to promote diversity they invite their class’s only brown student, Alicia (Elena Reyes), to work with them. However, between high egos, schoolgirl crushes and the battle for political correctness, things quickly begin to go downhill.

In this play, Meghan desperately attempts to be politically correct and almost preaches to her friends about all the things they’re doing wrong. However, in her attempts to be the best ally she can be, she ends up seeming to only see Alicia for her race instead of as an actual person. The play being over Zoom creates an environment where you feel as though you too are in the call and are involved in the awkward tension that is created. This provides an insightful look, in a blunt but impactful way, into how white people can often end up speaking over people of colour and trying to be ‘white saviours’, an issue that is particularly relevant with the largely social media based Black Lives Matter Movement.

While the play’s message is about race, the only character who is overly focused on that is Meghan and all the others have their own, completely unrelated motivations. Emily and Alicia are only there because they’re crushing on each other and Steven just wants to play his song. All the characters, including Meghan, are beautifully developed with complex backgrounds and morals and are not what they appear to be at face value.

Although the ending was rather flimsy, with the song feeling random and forced and there seemingly being no consequences for Meghan’s mistreatment of the rest of the group, I feel that it didn’t take away from the main focus and message of the piece.

Many theatre companies felt as though their passion was being ripped away from them when Covid-19 began to spread like wildfire and the world went into lockdown. In a desperate attempt to salvage our craft we began grasping at the brand-new concept of ‘zoom-plays’, with some creating touching art in ways we had never experienced before and others crumbling disastrously before our eyes. Thank You for Your Labour from director Mitchell Cushman, is undeniably one of the successes of the pandemic.

Rating: 4/5

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The River of Forgetfulness or Get me the Fuck out of this Zoom PlayReviewed By Sarah Carolan

If you are an actor not being able to perform, or you hate logging on to Zoom meetings, then this meandering storyline is for you.

The show starts off with three flatmates; Sammy, who was meant to play Jo from Llittle Women (Sam Cranston), Katelyn, who was meant to play Satan in Paradise Lost  (Katlyn Doyle) and Alison, who was meant to play Bill Slank in Peter and the Star Catcher(Alison Adams). They are on separate devises on a zoom call. They start to quote their plays and put on costumes, becoming their characters and talk about how in an alternate universe, without Covid, they’d be on stage. They wait for their friend Caleb (Caleb Pauzé) to join outside their house so he can use their wifi. We learn that Caleb was meant to play Adam in Paradise Lost. When he joins he starts to quote the others’ lines and asks to be let onto the house. The girls realise something is wrong with him as he won’t talk as himself and he hints that he is not human and that the same will happen to them. Taking a twist, Alison reveals that she had been writing a play, explaining the event that follow. The characters face a mix between reality and fiction and not being able to figure out which is which.

As I watched the characters try to puzzle their way out, I couldn’t help but empathise with their confusion, comparing it to the uncertainty during the pandemic.

Even though the play was relatively short, it seemed dragged out. I think this was because of the somewhat confusing story line. Even afterwards I found myself trying to puzzle out what happened. That being said, the way the play was put together was impeccable, all of the elements worked well together to make a very visually interesting piece.

Music played a big role, with an upbeat suspenseful drum playing when the story reached a dramatic point. I think that this was helpful to link the pieces together.

Another interesting technique was the use of multiple devises and a blend of live and recorded scenes. All of the characters had their own computers that followed the action from many different angles. At one point the three roommates interact with characters that looked suspiciously like the three girls. I was completely in awe by how they accomplished this. By using all of the functions on Zoom they were able to apply a video background so they could make it look like they were interacting with themselves.

Though this play had twists and turns at every corner, it’s an amazing example of how Zoom plays shouldn’t  be written off, instead should be admired as an alternative art form.

Outside the March- University of Windsor- directed by Griffin McInnes- written by Karen Hines for university students that weren’t able to perform on stage because of the pandemic.

Sarah Carolan 22/05/2021

Thank You For Your Labour – Reviewed by Anna Lynch

Marcus Youssef’s Zoom performance Thank You For Your Labour presents cultural wake up calls to those with idealistic ideas of allyship and solidarity – and should be thanked for its raising awareness of the white saviour complex.

In partnership with the University of Windsor, Outside the March’s Thank You For Your Labour is a refreshing production. It follows the story of four college students as they navigate the perilous subject of race and being allies to people of colour. The beginnings of a new crush and commanding, obstinate friendships also play thematic roles in the play.  The online production opens up with two friends, Megan and Emily, as they communicate via the platform of Zoom to prepare for a concert they are hosting in support of Black Lives Matter. As the call proceeds, we are introduced to Tyler who is unintentionally ignorant and clueless. We also meet Alicia, the only person of colour on the call, who is subject to the smothering attempts of allyship made by Megan.

Caitlin Jasulaitis (Megan), characterizes the hypocritical, excessive white saviour of the 21st century. Capturing the spirit of a domineering, dismissive person making many failed attempts of putting everyone at ease, Jasulaitis adds the element of excruciating uncomfortableness, making the performance so memorable. Alannah Pedde portrays the pacifying character of Emily effectively and Brennan Roberts (Tyler) represents the insensitivity of others. Elena Reves embodies the role of Alicia in an undeniably remarkable performance. She plays the difficult role of being the only person of colour in an overwhelmingly white situation, and also accurately highlights the performative activism of the others. This subsequently compels the viewers to debate their own internal views and actions on the matter.

Directed by Mitchell Cushman, the play affords viewers a new and exciting way to view theatre. The production managed to utilise all the features of Zoom, even allowing the audience to choose which part of the story they would like to follow, by enabling them to choose their own breakout room, which was an effective and unconventional way to tell a story. It gave us insight into a tense and hugely awkward zoom call, which felt incredibly realistic, even down to the inside jokes referred to by the characters. The use of music at the end, where all characters eventually performed a piece was a united and unified way to finish the play.

Arguably, the script was at times cringey, perhaps trying too hard to resonate with a younger audience. However, the questions posed – what does it mean to be a good ally? How aware are we of white privilege and its impacts? –  cancelled this out by highlighting inadvertent racism and asks us to delve deeper into the misguided happenings of everyday life.

Thank You For Your Labour is an advocative performance, that urges viewers to see themselves in the characters, and is one to watch the next time you’re in the mood for a reality check.

Rating: 4/5

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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.