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.
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.
The 2020 iteration of Young Critics, has like most events globally, been deeply affected by the COVID19 pandemic.
Ordinarily, our Young Critics would have met up for the first time over the Easter holidays, been introduced to each other and the art of criticism and seen some amazing shows together. Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen, as Ireland, like most countries worldwide, is under lockdown.
In an effort to share the Young Critics experience with our readers we are running a selection of their initial reviews.
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.
Irene Kelleher plays “one tough little nut” Emily in Regina Crowley’s eye-opening Gone Full Havisham, shown in the Garage Theatre Monaghan, based on Dickens’ renowned novel.
The startling yet memorable performance left little to the imagination and the audience in complete shock from entering the theatre where Kelleher, the ex-bride lay in a state of lunacy until the end where Kelleher walks off-stage for the first time leaving an emotional and confused audience behind, metaphorically leaving her past life behind. As the story moves along Emily describes to us the trials and tribulations of her childhood it becomes coherent how inevitable it was that Emily would eventually lose the plot.
The piece written, exquisitely by Kelleher herself strategically displays the series of tragic events leading up to Emily’s ultimate downfall into mental turmoil. Although the hour-long play left me unsatisfied with the lack of conclusion and plenty of room for deeper character development. What did Emily and the audience gain from this experience?
Irene Kelleher in Gone Full Havisham
The one-women show was pulled with style, to the extent where it felt as if there was a large cast on stage at times. The focus was on Emily for the entirety of the play. The directorial instruction to keep Kelleher centre stage was successful and had a long-lasting, profound effect on her performance, aiding my favourite climactic moment where Emily breaks all socially acceptable boundaries screaming “GET OUT!”. This worked because this moment was completely different compared to the rest of the play in terms of lighting, sound and facial expressions.
One aspect of production that stood out to me was the visual and lighting effects. The fact that Kelleher managed to take a classical, dated story and completely modernise it without ruining the plot is an art in itself. Lighting by Paul Denby and video and sound design by Cormac O’Connor really brought the production to a whole and more appealing level.
Kelleher and Crowley’s intimate bond is shown through her dignified facial expressions, body language and consistency throughout her long-lasting monologue.
It isn’t often that I would recommend a play this highly but the enthralling, captivating performance and plot opens a new world of emotions and underlying twists with each viewing.
Emma Corrigan has been a member of Monaghan Youth Theatre for nearly 4 years. During this time, she has played a part in plays such as “The Patriot Game”, “Dear Chuck” and “Thirteen”. She particularly enjoys workshops based around devising and improvisation. Emma is a keen writer who looks forward to seeing and discussing shows alongside people like her looking to learn the art of theatre criticism.