Review of The State Of The Nation by NAYD Young Critic Rita Havlin

In the run up to the Young Critics Panel as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival on Oct 9th, we’ve been publishing a series of written reviews by our Young Critics.

In our final review, Rita Havlin from Donegal Youth Theatre reviews The State Of The Nation by Conor Malone

Reviewed 4 June, 2016
Written by Conor Malone, directed by Charlie Bonner
Balor Developmental Community Arts
Balor Arts Centre, Co. Donegal

The State Of The Nation is a political satire questioning Ireland’s progress since the 1916 Rising. The play is set during a poker game in the afterlife, during which four famous figures of Irish politics, Thomas Davies (James Lawne), Jim Larkin (Peter Byrne), Michael Collins (Cillian O’Gairbhí), and Charlie Haughey (Conal Gallen), discuss the changes in the country over the last hundred years and the issues it still faces. I found this to be a very interesting way to frame this debate, literally asking “Is this the Ireland the revolutionaries dreamed of?”

A simple set design helps the audience focus on the content of the play. The action takes place on a raised white platform around a large table; a hat stand and a sideboard with decanters of whiskey stand at either end of the platform. Dim lighting and smoke set the scene for a classic game of poker, while a green backlight gives a supernal feel. This worked extremely well in balancing the realistic with the non-naturalistic.

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Conal Gallen, James Lawne, Peter Byrne, Cillian O’Gairbhi in rehearsals for The State Of The Nation. Photo Credit: Mark Fearon

The actors did a superb job in balancing the speech and mannerisms of different points in history, making no word or action feel out of place while also managing to maintain realistic and strongly recognizable characters. Their only downfall, which was perhaps a fault of the play itself, was a lack of movement, as the actors only left the table to refill their whiskey.

Indeed the writing is where The State of the Nation falls short. The play is meant to be comedic, and while no lines fall completely flat and some earn a hearty laugh from the audience, many jokes are overused or too similar to previous ones, and quickly lose their punch. The play touches on many important issues such as government salaries and corruption, the introduction of water charges, and the cost of education, but brought up in such a short space of time each issue begins to sound the same and each discussion seems half-baked. There is no suggested solution for any issue, and so no debate feels complete before the play moves on to a new topic.

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Poster design by Alan Reid

Staged as part of the Donegal County Council’s 1916 Commemoration, the play aims to celebrate Ireland as the country grows and develops, which it does to a degree, but it felt a little too critical of the nation to do this fully. The play fails to address the rich culture and art that Ireland has to offer, or the ways in which Ireland has progressed farther than many countries, focusing instead on the country’s political failings. However I must compliment the cast and crew as this production, despite its weaknesses, left me feeling satisfied, appropriately patriotic, and chuckling as I left the theatre.

Come join Rita and all our Young Critics on October 9th at 1pm at Project Arts Centre. 

They will be critiquing three productions as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2016. 

Our Summer of Shows 2016 – NAYD Young Critics

For the last three summers the NAYD Young Critics have been given the task of selecting a professional theatre production to see over the summer months.

The aim is to encourage them to see more theatre independently of the NAYD programme and create a culture of theatre going not only amongst the Young Critics, but also their wider youth theatre community.

Ideally it should be on in their local arts centre or venue and they are encouraged and supported to make a group booking for their own youth theatre to attend also.

NAYD, along with the participating local arts centres support this initiative through discounts, youth theatre group rates and the NAYD Go See YT Fund.

They were encouraged to utilise their own programming eye and select work that they would then be able to create a critical response to. These critical responses take the form of  short video blog reviews or podcasts, where they discuss the shows.

Since the start of May, the Young Critics have been seeing work and then writing, shooting and editing their own individual critical response vlogs. Some of these take the form of straight up critical responses, while others utilise comedy, drama and other techniques to respond to the work.

What did they see?

Summer Shows 2016

In the last two years there were a  large number of One Man/ One Woman shows touring the country.This year there were more medium scale touring productions on offer, perhaps suggesting that there is a broader range of work on offer. Or perhaps companies are being better funded then in previous years.

Decadent Theatre Company led the way with their production of The Weir by Conor McPherson, which was seen by three Young Critics in venues in Cork, Kilkenny and Limerick.

Chapterhouse Theatre Company from the UK toured their production of Sense and Sensibility to stately homes in Kilkenney and Kerry was reviewed by two of our Young Critics.

Following his Olivier Award winning success, Pat Kinevane’s Underneath continues it’s extensive tour with Fishamble.  It was viewed and reviewed by two of our Young Critics at the Townhall Cavan and Droichead Arts Centre.

Another show at Droichead Arts Centre was Brokentalkers highly acclaimed The Blue Boy. You can view Young Critic Jack Synott’s critical analysis here

Touring to Sligo was The Everyman, Cork’s production of God Bless The Child, which caught the attention of our Young Critic from Sligo Youth Theatre.

For our two Dublin based Young Critics, Philip McMahon’s Town is Dead proved a popular choice at the Peacock Theatre.

Also in Dublin, was the Gate’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee, which was reviewed by one of our Young Critics

Regionally, local productions included Lovely Leitrim at the Ramor Theatre Virginia, Romeo and Juliet at An Tain Dundalk, The State of The Nation at The Balor Arts Centre, Co. Donegal, and The Dark Kingdom at the Granary Theatre as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

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Through the month of August we will be sharing a selection of their critical responses across the Young Critics Blog.

In September we will be sharing some written reviews of work in the run up to the Young Critics Panel as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

It has been a really productive few months for the NAYD Young Critics and we look forward to sharing our responses to the work with you all.

A big thanks to all the venues and companies who continue to support the initiative through discounts and group rates.