Cork Midsummer Festival – From a Young Critic

I can honestly say that the weekend I spent with Young Critics at the
Cork Midsummer Festival was one the best of my young life so far. I was challenged by all four of the productions we attended to go outside my comfort zone physically and mentally. I was left thinking deeply about things such as mental health, what is means to be Irish, the materialistic values of today and lives that dwell behind closed doors.


My weekend began with a bus trip for me to ponder over what was ahead. I was excited and glad to be meeting my fellow young critics again. Together again for the first time in two months, we headed with Alan,Diane and Mirjana to our accommodation Victoria Lodge at UCC. Waiting for us there were welcome packages from the kind people of Cork Midsummer Festival, as well as complimentary food!

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After being fed and watered, we trundled along to the Camden Palace Hotel, a quirky arts centre where we met up with Karen Fricker and took part in a workshop about the piece we were to see that night –Fabulous Beast’s Rian. This workshop was substantially more physical than previous ones; we explored the idea of abstract expression through movement. We discussed what Irish music meant to us all, our concepts of dance and watched an introductory film about Rian. We were truly pepped up at this point for a spectacular performance – and that it was.

Rian was one of the best performances I have ever witnessed. There was such a natural energy onstage, and the performers showed nothing but absolute joy in every single movement they made. Traditional Irish music and contemporary dance are not two things I have ever shown much interest in, nor did I ever think they could have meshed so well together! Liam Ó Maonlaí did Séan Ó Riada proud, amalgamating music of all cultures with traditional Irish. I was struck with a great sense of beauty at this magical performance, and the simplicity of human movement. To make a wonderful night even more so, the audience was invited onstage to share in the fabulous art of dance and we were joined by the director Michael Keegan-Dolan. It was a night that will stay in my memory for a long time.

Home we came to Victoria Lodge, still buzzing but in desperate need of sleep, some of us being up since as early as 06:00am. The next morning was an early one, and we trekked to Cork School of Music for the second workshop of the weekend to discuss our thoughts about Rian. We then turned our focus to the Parallel Cities project and to Dylan Tighe’s production of Record, and created some ideas as to what we were expecting.

Parallel Cities was a new experience for us all – Shopping Centre was an immersive performance, in which we took a set of headphones and a pocket radio and were instructed on how to act in a particular shopping centre in Cork (location top secret). It was great fun acting as an agent of the underground, but there was also a clear message in this piece: that consumerism and materialism has taken a hold of modern life, and that we are becoming slaves to our relationships with items rather than with people.

The other Parallel Cities piece we ‘saw’ was House, which gave a look into true life stories of various people living in Cork at the moment. I enjoyed the simplicity of this piece; we stood with headphones outside a house and observed the lives inside. The piece took me out of my own mind and reminded me of the importance of everyone’s story.

Between these two pieces we went to see a preview of Dylan Tighe’s Record. This play really struck a chord with me, if you will excuse the pun. The truth of Tighe’s life is literally laid bare for the audience to see in this piece, as he delves into his struggle with mental illness and the Irish health system. There was a complete connection made between man and audience through his heartfelt music and lyrics. Record made me think a lot about the complexity (and often the torture) of life, and this was succeeded through satirical humour as well as tragedy. Despite the pain and suffering, hope was the last note sounded in the play. The necessity of the ability to love dominates the message board of Record’ and I know will never listen to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ without thinking of Dylan Tighe.

The morning of the 24th was another early one in Cork School of Music again for our final workshop. We split off into smaller groups and were given the challenge of composing a review of one of the four pieces in just 40 minutes. It was such a thrill getting our reviews in on our first real deadline, and we were sixteen happy young critics that afternoon! We travelled to the bus and train stations and said our goodbyes, promising to keep in contact and keep critiquing.

As great as I thought the first weekend in Dublin was, Cork was twice that. It is really such a beautiful city, and the artistic opportunities available are enough to tempt me to move there! I loved the raw honesty I found in every one of the productions we went to see, and I cannot thank NAYD and Cork Midsummer Festival for giving me this invaluable experience. I feel myself coming away from Young Critics enriched with different tastes of theatre, and with an unending appetite for more.

Madi O’ Carroll, County Wexford Youth Theatre

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