Howie The Rookie – A Review by Heather Jones

The 2020 iteration of Young Critics, has like most events globally, been deeply affected by the COVID19 pandemic. So instead of bringing our group to Dublin for their first weekend together in April, we will be 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.

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First up, Young Critic Heather Jones from Giant Wolf Youth Theatre reviews Howie The Rookie at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. Presented by Glass Mask Theatre as part of a national tour, this review contains ***MAJOR SPOILERS*** for Howie The Rookie.

This delightfully emotional, witty, thought-provoking play by Mark O’Rowe is truly a sight to behold.

The play centres on two dual monologues – delivered by our main characters ‘the Howie Lee’ (Stephen Jones) and ‘the Rookie Lee’ (Rex Ryan), some of Ireland’s most exciting actors – taking the audience on an adventure of two individuals fighting for survival and meaning against a Dublin City pulsing with violence.

Some of the truly incredible elements of the show come in the form of delivery, lighting and sound design and its conspiracy ending.

The delivery by each actor is truly miraculous. The authenticity and immersive-ness of the performance allows for the play to envelop the audience in all elements of the plot, themes and believability of the characters. Even the delivery of the play’s major twists and turns are done so with ease by Jones and Rex. The physicality and recall of these extraordinary actors is unbelievable as well and is certainly commendable, admired and one of the most memorable attributes of the show.

But an actor can only be as good as their tools, and in this case the writing for this theatrical piece is remarkable. The play is structured in two acts, with each act as one monologue delivered by their respective character – Act One saw the ‘larger than life’, the Howie Lee, as the storyteller with Act Two, looking toward ‘the playboy’, the Rookie Lee, to pick up the torch. With each act capping in at nearly 50 minutes, the performances of Jones and Ryan are looked on with awe and admiration by their audience.

The lighting and sound design are other elements that resulted in such an incredible play. Due to set design – or lack thereof, with nothing but an empty stage for the actors to play with – every flicker of light or hum of a note was noticed by the eagle-eyed and elephant-eared viewer. All lighting arrangements were easily recognisable and clearly helped to establish the setting in the face-paced, ever-evolving story. Even the subtle music cues of soft filler music or cheesy love songs aided in the telling of a sensual, emotional story.

Finally, the mysterious ending. This is where the debate begins. What? That’s all I can say about it. Theories range from ‘he’s obviously dead’ to ‘it’s all in his head’. Regardless of what it all means, it truly is an intriguing ending. It is one that sticks with an audience as we are left to ponder and theorise, making the play memorable. For me personally, I would have liked a little more detail or sense of what it meant – as my friends and I were left flabbergasted and longed to know what the heck we had just seen. It definitely took a turn that both no one expected or understood.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the play and would encourage everyone to go and see it – but be warned, prepare to leave the theatre wondering what just happened.

Heather Jones is a member of Giant Wolf Youth Theatre and one of Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics for 2020.

Heather has been a member of Giant Wolf Youth Theatre for just over a year.

She has loved every second of this experience and learned so much about herself and theatre as a whole. She has been involved in physical theatre, movement, stage combat, writing and general production workshops within her time in Giant Wolf. They, as a theatre, have done one major production called ‘Eggplant’, centred around teenage sexual relationships, sexual maturity and sexual education. She has participated in a European Youth Theatre Festival called ‘Intertwined’ in Cottbus, Germany.

Heather would love to gain more expertise and understanding of theatre from the Young Critics Programme. Having in-depth discussions is something she loves to do and getting to have those discussions on plays and theatre is like a dream come true for me. She’d love to become an actor or something within the world of drama when she’s older too and feels this programme will benefit her greatly.

She would also love to make new friends to last me a lifetime also. Getting to meet like-minded people who share common interests is always exciting and seldom seen. And seeing a few shows for free doesn’t sound too bad either.

Introducing  Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics 2020

The response to Youth Theatre Ireland’s call out for Young Critics this year was phenomenal. We received 45 applications from youth theatres all across the country. The standard of application was exceptionally high and we were lucky to be able to select 16 young people with a broad range of youth theatre experiences.

 

We are delighted to announce our cohort of Young Critics for 2020.

They are:

Sinead Barry, Lightbulb Youth Theatre, Mallow, Co. Cork.

Cathal Brace, Griese Youth Theatre, Co. Kildare.

Marc Cheevers, Explore Youth Theatre, Co. Kildare.

Sarah Cooney McCann, M.A.D. Youth Theatre, Dundalk, Co. Louth.

Emma Corrigan, Monaghan Youth Theatre.

Harry Eaves, Mr. Sands Youth Theatre, Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Dylan Gallagher, Leitrim Youth Theatre Company Carrick On Shannon.

Heather Jones, Giant Wolf Youth Theatre, Tallaght, Dublin.

Katie Lacey- Curtis, Making Waves Youth Theatre, Greystones, Co. Wicklow

Caitlyn Morrissey, Co. Wexford Youth Theatre.

Ellie O’Connell, Activate Youth Theatre, Cork.

Lórcan O’Shea, Kildare Youth Theatre. 

Ruairí Phelan, Dublin Youth Theatre.

Mairead Phelan, Free Radicals Youth Theatre, Tralee, Co. Kerry.

Killian Reid, Backstage Youth Theatre, Longford

Kai Ryan, Griese Youth Theatre, Co. Kildare.

We’re especially delighted to welcome members from three of our most recently affiliated youth theatres; Mr. Sands, Giant Wolf and Making Waves Youth Theatres, who will have members participating on Young Critics for the very first time.

In light of the current health emergency with COVID19, we’ve had to suspend our annual first meet up of the Young Critics in April. We hope to bring the group together later in the summer and then back again for the Young Critics Panel in October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

We’d like to thank all the young people who applied, and all the youth theatres who supported their applications.

In the meantime, we will be introducing you to our young critics and publishing a selection of the critical responses across the Young Critics blog.

First up we have Heather Jones from Giant Wolf Youth Theatre based at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. You can read her very insightful review of Howie The Rookie here on the Young Critics Blog.

The Cat Laughs by Fern Kealy

Last May Kilkenny native Fern Kealy spent two days immersed at The Cat Laughs Comedy Festival. She shares her thoughts on two very different experiences on offer in The Marble City.

Day 1- Crowman

On the 30th of May 2019, I had the pleasure of seeing Crowman in the Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny. On its promotional material, this one-man show, written and directed by Katie Holly was described as “hilarious dark comedy”.

Jon Kenny played the role of Dan, a man living alone in rural Ireland who goes to funerals as social events. However, when he turns on the radio one day, he is shocked to hear that Sheila, a woman he loved has passed away. We watch Jon Kenny slip in and out of several characters as he reflects on his memories of Sheila. It is the interruption of the much-hated crows which brings him back to reality, due to a traumatic childhood experience involving them.

Throughout the play, Dan speaks to his unseen dog Pup. This device is cleverly used to change the subject or make small talk.

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The fact that there is only one actor in this play emphasises how lonely Dan is, and this is further shown as Pup is always off stage. It was quite moving and poignant to see his loneliness portrayed in this way.

Initially, I felt detached from this play. It was as though I didn’t have much in common with Dan, and whilst of course, Dan is different to myself I definitely related to his emotions as expressed and his way of dealing with things.  In a recent interview, Jon Kenny said that “there was a little bit of Dan in all of us” and I think this is why many people would identify with and enjoy some aspect of this play, as it deals with many topics including loneliness.

This was a very intimate play and I felt that as I attended it in a relatively large theatre it maybe wasn’t as moving as it could have been if it were performed in a smaller space.  That said, I still found the piece a very touching experience.

The play was resolved beautifully with a definite ending that I thought suited very well and tied up the drama. I left the theatre with a lot to think about and discuss, but at the same time didn’t feel burdened or overwhelmed.

I would recommend this play, as it is quite honest in portraying loneliness and a feeling of lost opportunity.

Crowman is currently touring Ireland through 2020.

Day 2- The Bear Pack Improv

The following day, I had the pleasure of seeing The Bear Pack perform in The Village
Inn. The Bear Pack are an improv duo from Sydney, comprising of Steen Raskopoulos and Carlo Ritchie. The improvised show was inspired by suggestions from the audience and accompanied by Ange Lavoipierre on the cello. The duo also facilitated a workshop earlier that day which I attended.

During this workshop we participated in different exercises including an improvised “radio show” and creating an advertisement in two minutes, then a minute and a half, gradually reducing the time until we were just given the product and some other information by another group and went straight into the ad, without preparation.

I generally haven’t been very comfortable with improvisation mainly due to overthinking or shutting down any ideas as soon as they come to mind, but I found that the workshop helped me to get out of my comfort zone and improve my ability to think on my feet. During the improvisation of the advertisements, Raskopoulos and Ritchie encouraged us to say “yes, excellent!” no matter what was suggested, increasing the confidence of the participants and encouraging them to keep contributing ideas.

I later found that many of the techniques the duo taught us were used throughout the performance and it was interesting to see them put into practice so well.

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Back on stage, later that night, the show was an hour of enjoyable, hilarious, light-hearted comedy. The duo’s wit and improvisational skills were outstanding. I was amazed by their ability to keep the plot going so smoothly and also the physical animation of the acting. The improvised cello mirrored the story very well and added to the atmosphere of the performance through the use of sustained notes and eerie scales. I found that as an audience member it was exciting that all of their shows were completely different. This performance ended up being about the Olympics, a story about a father who was a famous runner, wanting his son to follow in his footsteps, but his son wanted to walk!

Due to the nature of improvisation, some loose strings weren’t tied up, so at the end, the actors allowed 10 minutes for the audience to ask any questions they had. They would then act out a solution or ending to the part in question.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, which was described as “the highlight of The Cat Laughs”, and also the workshop, which was very insightful, enjoyable and helpful for anyone who would like to work on getting more comfortable with improvisation. I would highly recommend The Bear Pack for an evening of light, comedic theatre and a good laugh.

Fern’s participation in the workshop and ticket for the show was free of charge.

Fern Kealy is a member of Kilkenny Youth Theatre and a Young Critic for 2019 

 

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Panel Two. Kevin Alyward, Fern Kealy, Maebh Bartley, Adam Dwyer & Óisin Tiernan

Podcast- Young Critics Panel Discussion 2019

The 2019 Young Critics met on Sunday Oct 13th at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, to discuss three shows as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Listen to the full panel discussion here:

 

 

 

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Panel One. L-R, Sean Loughrey, Grace Sheehan, Clodagh Boyce, Aisling O’Leary

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Panel Two, Kevin Alyward, Fern Kealy, Maebh Bartley, Adam Dwyer & Óisin Tiernan

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Panel Three, Ruth Corrigan, Jessie Flynn, Sinead Mooney, Jeanette Michalopoulou & Susie Murphy Dooley

Fern Kealy talks about her Young Critics Experience with Youth Theatre Ireland

Fern Kealy is one of Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics for 2019.

Fern recalls an action-packed first weekend spent with fellow Young Critics in Dublin from April 12-14th.

Fern Kealy  is a member of Kilkenny Youth Theatre 

Our Young Critics 2019 are:

Kevin Aylward- Limerick Youth Theatre

Maeve Bartley – Co.Limerick Youth Theatre

Clodagh Boyce- Dublin Youth Theatre

Ruth Corrigan – Mayo Youth Theatre

Susie Dooley – County Carlow Youth Theatre

Adam Dwyer – County Carlow Youth Theatre

Leah Farrell – Backstage Youth Theatre, Longford

Jesse Flynn – Dublin Youth Theatre

Fern Kealy – Kilkenny Youth Theatre 

Seán Loughrey – Droichead Youth Theatre, Drogheda, Co.Louth

Jeanette Michalopoulou – Sligo Youth Theatre

Sinéad Mooney – Kildare Youth Theatre

Aisling O’Leary –Act Out Youth Theatre, Navan, Co.Meath

Grace Sheehan – Activate Youth Theatre, Cork

Holly Roynane –Act Out Youth Theatre, Navan, Co.Meath

Oisín Tiernan – WACT Youth Theatre, Wexford

Young Critics 2019- Applications Now Open

Young Critics is one of Youth Theatre Ireland’s most popular and innovative programmes. Over a six-month period, participants will see some incredible shows, make new friends and learn about the art of theatre criticism.

 

 

It is open to youth theatre members who are interested in watching theatre, discovering how and why theatre is made, and learning how to critically discuss, analyse, and review theatre.

During the programme, young people are given an opportunity to see quality productions while developing their critical skills under the mentorship of international theatre critic and academic, Dr. Karen Fricker, and Youth Theatre Ireland’s own Alan King.

This year the programme will include a particular focus on engaging with different forms of criticism. These will include writing reviews and developing blogs, making podcasts, creating video blogs, and much more.

Young critics has helped make new friends, learn to express my opinions, gave me insight to lots of different types of theatre and gave me the tools to voice my critiques in a number of ways. – Young Critic 2018

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE YOUNG CRITICS?

The Young Critics will first meet in Dublin from Friday April 12th to Sunday April 14th and again from October 11th – 13th. Over the two weekends the Young Critics will attend at least four theatre productions, and participate in workshops and discussions, facilitated by the mentors.

In October, the group will meet up in Dublin again to see further productions, take part in more workshops and participate in a public panel event as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In between the two residential weekends, the Young Critics will have the opportunity to see other productions and make critical responses through the use of digital technology.

The Young Critics will be supported by our professional mentors through workshops, tutorials and online support forums.

HOW DO I APPLY TO TAKE PART IN YOUNG CRITICS?

Participation in the programme is totally free: accommodation, meals, theatre tickets and travel costs are covered by Youth Theatre Ireland.

It is open to youth theatre members who will be aged 16 – 20 by April 1st 2019. We are looking for young people who are comfortable meeting new people, working in a highly focused way and are willing to share their thoughts and opinions with each other. A love of theatre and an enthusiasm for engaging with digital tools are a bonus.

We will provide you with all the skills and tools needed to take part fully in the programme. To be a Young Critic you must be fully available for both weekends. You must also be available to take part in online discussions and see some theatre shows yourself between the two residentials.

Youth Theatre Ireland will have welfare leaders in place on both weekends to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all participants.

If you are interested in the programme, please download the  application form,fill out fully  and return by post only to:

Young Critics Programme, Youth Theatre Ireland, 7, North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1 by Thursday March 14th by 5pm.

If you need further information please contact Youth Theatre Ireland:
Office phone: 01 878 1301 or Email Alan King

In order to offer individual advice and guidance on developing each young person’s critical skills, places on the programme are limited to a maximum of 16.

Please visit the Young Critics Resource Suite for lots of hints and tips on running a Young Critics Programme and creating critical responses. 

Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre – Young Critic Review by Pippa Molony

It’s been a busy few months since the Young Critics last met in April as they have been honing their critical skills while seeing shows up and down the country.

With the Dublin Theatre Festival looming over the horizon, we reflect on some of the productions the Young Critics saw over the summer.

To whet your appetite for festival season, Young Critic Pippa Molony gives us this epic review of Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre

Elsewhere our Young Critics saw Pat Kinevane’s Silent, The Aspirations of Daise Morrow at the Black Box Theatre Galway, Asking for It and Wet Paint at the Everyman Cork, Mamma Mia on the West End, A Doll’s House at the Roscommon Arts Centre and the Deadly Wizard of Oz in Dundalk.

 We will be announcing the Young Critics picks for the Dublin Theatre Festival very soon along with details of the Panel discussion itself.

Pippa Molony is a member of Dublin Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2018.

 

 

CLASS – An atypical look at a seasoned setting. Review by Aaron Dobson.

Aaron Dobson from Leitrim Youth Theatre Company, Carrigallen shares this review of Class by Iseult Golden and David Horan

Classrooms are some of the most popular scenarios for plays – whether it be a story of a trip to the boarding school (Daisy Pulls It Off by Denise Deegan), or a teacher faced with the duty of educating youth (Alan Bennett’s  The History Boys is a great example), the classroom is the perfect closed-off space for many a show. But one thing that I have never seen worked upon on the big stage is a parent-teacher meeting – and CLASS does this to perfection, and more. You could almost say…. It’s a CLASS act.

Puns aside, this production was one of the most phenomenal experiences I have had from a small-cast production in a while. The setting never changes. The tension never changes. The actors never change…but their characters do. The story revolves around Brian and Donna (played by Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris) and the struggles they face bringing up their children in a broken relationship. The standing point in the story is that their 9-year old child, Jayden, is having troubles at school – and his teacher (Will O’Connell) is intending to enforce learning support upon him, which brings great grief onto Brian specifically.

Now this alone would make for an interesting story. The could have stopped here, added little else, and the play would still be a triumph and an excellent piece of writing. But co-writers David Horan and Iseult Golden, under Horan’s direction, deserve extra appraisal for going beyond this one idea and adventuring into unknown territory. At first I was worried when I heard about the actors “reverting into the younger generation”. However, when I first seen Brian transform into Jayden and Donna into the child of a drug addict, I knew this was something special. Their childlike states gave myself and the audience the information we needed about the situation at hand without a word spoken by the parents.

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Will O’Connell in Class by Iseult Golden & David Horan . Photo credit: Ros Kavanagh

The teacher himself faces some sort of internal conflict – between his own personal matters, the slowly derailing meeting and the children’s situation at their learning support. It was interesting to note how he deals with both children and parents, despite them being the same actors – For example, their transition from a dance routine to a tense, nervous situation between the same trio.  This transition was flawless – especially with the parents and their kids, who could revert from being hilariously out of tune with the rest of the world to stern, stubborn, angry at the world and ever situation around them.

The ending alone was one of the key points of the play, and possibly the part that shook me the most. Of course I won’t spoil it, but it finally became clear the true nature of Donna and Brian’s relationship, and the root of the majority of the problems faced throughout the play. Ultimately, the experience was riveting and exciting,  with comedic moments scattered throughout the play – but the true focus and underlying messages of terror in a school environment and possible mental issues stuck strong with me, and for this I would thoroughly recommend seeing this play.

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Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris in Class by Iseult Golden & David Horan . Photo credit: Ros Kavanagh

Class ran at the Peacock Theatre Dublin from 24th of January to February 3rd 2018. This production was reviewed at the Dublin Theatre Festival at The New Theatre in October 2017.

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Aaron Dobson is a member of Leitrim Youth Theatre Company, Carrigallen and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2017.