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.

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