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 Criticshave 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 Macbethhas 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.
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.
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.
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 selling 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!
Ellie has been a member of Activate Youth Theatre for 3 years and has participated in a variety of workshops and productions in this time. She also has interest videography. She is thrilled to be taking part in the Young Critics Programme 2020, and can’t wait to meet new people and learn all about critiquing theatre!
Continuing our series of reviews by this year’s Young Critics, we turn our attention to Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Known for its repertoire of classics, the 2019/ 2020 season saw productions of Tennesse Williams’ 1944 The Glass Menagerie alongside a new version of Medea by Kate Mulvany & Anna Louise Sarks after Euripides.
These reviews were submitted as part of their Young Critics application. As such, they represent the first steps on their Young Critics journey. We hope you enjoy them.
Katie Lacey Curtis from Making Waves Youth Theatre, Greystones, Co Wicklow, reviews Medea.
I was unsure of the play at the beginning as it was very static as the boys ‘played dead’ for about five minutes, but I was awoken when they began to play again, their energy filling the room as they ran around the stage as they played. Medea herself only appeared for around 20 minutes of the play in total, each time appearing more frantic and distraught than the last, which greatly added to the suspense as we were not the wiser as to when she would murder them.
The two boys were the perfect embodiment of the two brothers and whilst they fought we saw not long after how much they cared for each other and really got on. The boys singing ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ brought a tear to my and many other’s eyes as we knew they would not live to be adults.
The use of set and lights also worked amazingly. As the boys passed in Medea’s arms the lights dimmed leaving a plethora of ‘stars’ behind them.
However, I did find that following Medea’s final monologue the play ended very abruptly, leaving little time for the room to breath and her last words to ring out.
Katie has been a member of Making Waves Youth Theatre for 3 years since its founding in 2017. During these years she has taken part in both of their 2 shows and taken part in many workshops focusing on improvisation, movement and script work, as well as writing. She is looking forward to seeing a large range of shows, learning more about criticism in theatre and then getting the opportunity to properly critique them.
Marc Cheevers from Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare turns his eye to The Glass Menagerie.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams
Last year, my youth theatre viewed a play called The Glass Menagerie in the Gate Theatre. It was a very well made production with each scene not only capturing my interest but also my curiosity. Its concept was simple. A family in 1940s America but the sister was crippled, so the family had to look out for her. The accents were quite solid, sometimes their natural accents would slip through but other than that, the acting was quite good. The costumes well suited the period and there was an excellent use of music. In the end, the family has torn apart and I cannot deny that I didn’t shed a tear. Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable piece and I would see it again.
Marc has been a member of Explore Youth Theatre for 1 1/2 years. He has been involved in a number of productions and improvised pieces. He is looking forward to viewing more productions and improving his critique skills.
Towards the end of last year, on the 9th of November 2019, in the Siamsa Tíre Theatre in Tralee, Co. Kerry, I saw Rough Magic’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. It was very well advertised play; with an almost full house on the night I attended, with people of various age groups filling up the seats of the theatre.
At first, I was apprehensive of going. Shakespeare plays, to me, always seemed like drab, dull affairs due to my only experience being that of my Leaving Cert and Junior Cert required Shakespeare play, but Rough Magic blew me away with their incredible performance of Much Ado About Nothing.
Rough Magic took a modern approach to the classic drama-comedy, setting it in a colourful summer caravan park, with the character’s costume and roles updated for the modern era. This was, admittedly, a strange contrast to the Shakespearean English they were using, but I felt it just added to the wonderful, absurd humour that ran throughout the play.
Absurd, loud, colourful, and humorous seemed to be the main components of this play and the talented actors in Rough Magic pulled it off brilliantly. It was a crude and wacky play, with the introduction of outfits for the male actors and a hilarious dream sequence in which a character, Benedick, looses, his *ahem* Bene-dick. The prop they used, of course, was a sausage.
With a less talented cast, the script may have come across as too corny or in-your-face, but the talented actors in Rough Magic projected well, hit their lines and were wonderful both in the comedic scenes and the scenes that carried a bit more dramatic weight.
Rough Magic Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing. Photo Credit: Ste Murray
Two characters, who were both a comedic and a dramatic centrepiece, in my opinion, were Beatrice and the aforementioned Benedick. At the beginning of the play, both characters despised each other, but by the end, they were in deep love, though still bickered. The actors made this seem like a natural progression and were one of my favourite plot-threads in the play. It was hilarious and somehow, this entirely comedic play got me incredibly emotionally invested in the relationship and character dynamics.
Rough Magic’s Much Ado About Nothing was a gut-busting and surprisingly emotional play, with a highly talented cast. I would highly recommend both Rough Magic for its talented actors and clever use of modern settings, while Much Ado About Nothing for anyone looking for a feel-good play about love.
Máiréad Phelan. She is member of Free Radicals Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.
Máiréad Phelan has been a member of Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Siamsa Tíre for 3 years now. During this time, she has done 6 stage performances and attended several workshops, centred on acting, writing and stage production. She immensely enjoys writing and does so in her (little) spare time. Mairead is looking forward to what she can learn from Young critics and to meet all new people who might share her interests, as well as seeing some hopefully interesting new shows.