Review of Guests of the Nation

By Ethan Mallon

Photos by Enrique Carnicero

Derived from the Frank O’Connor short story published in 1931 and first adapted to the stage by Neil McKenzie in 1958, Guests of the Nation made its way to the stage once again for the Cork Midsummer Festival in June. Brought to life through the talents of director Pat Kiernan and writer Kevin Barry, this new adaptation both instilled its own distinct flavour to the casting and direction whilst still retaining the spirit and bite of O’Connor’s original work. Set during the Irish War for Independence, Guests of the Nation chronicles the story of 4 soldiers; two Irish, two British, as they struggle with the trials and tribulations of the war whilst inevitably hurtling towards the death of the latter by execution.

Right from the word go I was engaged by the stark humanity portrayed in the imprisoned British soldiers as they grappled with their impending fates. Whereas the majority of works depicting the War for Independence would entirely portray the British in a negative light, Barry’s script offers a more morally grey portrayal of the Brit’s, bringing into question the morale of the IRA ironically. This is not to imply that the former approach is inherently a negative, see Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley for what can be achieved with such an approach, but to put emphasis not on the frankly psychotic slaughter of civilians often enacted by the Black & Tans but instead the humanity of those caught up in the torture and bloodshed that ultimately had no direct ties to such barbaric actions was an impressive and bold choice.

Of course a distinct element of this adaptation I have otherwise overlooked thus far would be the all-female cast with Gina Moxley, Liz Fitzgibbon, Amy Conroy and Chloe O’Reilly portraying the IRA and British soldiers respectively. Any potential scepticism was swiftly dashed out as the play began proper, as all four women did a phenomenal job engrossing me into the narrative. I can’t say for certain whether this was a direct decision by the creative team, but it made me think during and after the show about how certain gender archetypes influence how people may make casting decisions. This isn’t to say that masculine men or feminine women for instance aren’t still present in the modern world of course, but the assumption that everyone of both genders only fall into certain demographics is simply misguided, something this show fortunately goes against the grain on.

Another key aspect of this iteration of the story is that it is not squarely resigned to the stage for its entirety, rather the audience is taking across the city of Cork much as the characters go across the Irish countryside. Not only does this result in an incredibly distinct vibe to the proceedings than I have ever seen in any stage production thus far, but it also allows the audience some time, albeit brief, to muse on the characters actions and the trajectory of the narrative. It’s not as if most stage shows don’t have a standard intermission of course, but those are usually during the middle point. By making the audience go from place to place at three separate intervals gives more instances to ponder on the story at hand and what is trying to be conveyed.

Overall I’d say that this new iteration of Guests of the Nation has more than surpassed my expectations. Through adapting O’Connor’s new work whilst integrating their own distinct elements, Kiernan and Barry have simultaneously revamped the show in some ways for a modern audience whilst still retaining the spirit of the original short story, of which still retains a strong potency a little over ninety years after its first publication.

Ethan Mallon is a member of Act Out Youth Theatre in Co. Meath and is a Young Critic for 2022.

Review of A Safe Passage

By Andrew Keegan

Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

On the surface, “A Safe Passage” is an uncomplicated, transparent tale of a humble lighthouse keeper, a troubled young adult, and how the two come to form a deep, unlikely relationship that will ultimately change both of their lives, forever. 
“A Safe Passage”, written by Irene Kelleher and directed by Geoff Gould, follows two protagonists. Christy, played by Seamus O’Rourke, is a reserved and unremarkable man, who lives out his days guiding those at sea. Alongside Christy, we also follow a peculiar and unpredictable young woman known as Marilyn, played by the formerly mentioned Irene Kelleher. Throughout the sixty-minute run time, we watch as the two gradually begin to develop a bond as the pair come to know more about each other and their past. 
The production is set in 1979, New Year’s Eve, and immediately I must commend the set designer, Hannah Lane for her clever inclusion of props and other objects, such as the long-outdated radio and lantern. The use of these props allows the audience to comfortably immerse themselves fully into the show.  
As well as the set production, audio design plays a vital role. Sounds effects such as the crackling of the radio, can be used to convey a sense of isolation and loneliness. Another example includes the exaggerated rattling of the spilled pills hitting against the floor, which creates an uneasy atmosphere among the audience. 
“A Safe Passage” explores many themes throughout its duration, these being, ‘the devastating effects of isolation’, the ‘importance of human connection’, and ‘overwhelming guilt’. In my opinion, I feel that not only does the production convey these themes effectively but does so in a delicate manner as they are real world issues that affect countless people.  
At its core, “A Safe Passage” is a gut-wrenching, somber story of two individuals embracing their sorrow together. With passionate acting, black comedy and a gripping plot, every audience member is bound to leave the theatre astonished and wholeheartedly satisfied.

Andrew Keegan is a member of Fracture Youth Theatre in Thurles Co. Tipperary and is a Young Critic for 2022.

Introducing the Young Critics 2022!

Youth Theatre Ireland are delighted to announce this year’s Young Critics from 14 different youth theatres across the country!

The Young Critics is one of Youth Theatre Ireland’s longest running programmes and sees 16 youth theatre members come together to learn about theatre criticism and response. The programme this year is led by Alan King, Rebecca Feely, and esteemed academic and theatre critic Dr. Karen Fricker.

The Young Critics 2022 are:

MaryJane O’Connor O’Leary, Activate Youth Theatre, Co. Cork

Dearbhla McCormick, Monaghan Youth Theatre

Liam O’Neill, Dreamstuff Youth Theatre, Co. Kilkenny

Yasna Tofail, Limerick Youth Theatre

Helen McCarthy, Explore Youth Theatre, Co. Kildare

Chaya Smyth, Dublin Youth Theatre

Cian Griffin, WACT Youth Theatre, Co. Wexford

Amelie Prone, Kildare Youth Theatre

James Acheson Dennehy, Stagecraft Youth Theatre, Co. Tipperary

Keeley Guilfoyle, Clare Youth Theatre

Andrew Keegan, Fracture Youth Theatre, Co. Tipperary

Ethan Mallon, Act Out Youth Theatre, Co. Meath

Mia Clinch, Sligo Youth Theatre

Molly Crilly, Act Out Youth Theatre, Co. Meath

Nneka Okosi, MAD Youth Theatre, Co. Louth

Becca McGlone, Sligo Youth Theatre

This year the crew have already been to the Cork Midsummer Festival where they saw A Safe Passage by Irene Kelleher, Guests of the Nation by CorcaDorca, and they also had the opportunity to see some visual art installations across the city.

The Young Critics will come together again from October 7th-9th for Dublin Theatre Festival, and the weekend will culminate with a panel discussion at The Project Arts Centre on October 9th at 1pm. Tickets are free and you can find out more on Dublin Theatre Festival’s website.

You can find out more about the Young Critics programme and other programmes for youth theatre members here.

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.


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.



A Summer of Shows with The Shadow Of A Gunman

It’s been a fabulously productive summer for this year’s Young Critics.

As part of our summer initiative, and with the support of their local arts centres and venues, they have been seeing productions the length and breath of the country.

They selected a show and  planned a theatre trip for their youth theatre friends. Their own curatorial skills were being put to the test as they selected a show that would hold the interest of their peers.

The range of productions they have managed to see has been truly impressive. There was lots of New Irish Writing on display with many shows touring to local arts centres. The One Man Show is a staple of the touring circuits and there was no shortage of these on offer.

Young Critics Summer Shows

Several Young Critics went to see Mikel Murfi’s sublime The Man In The Woman’s Shoes, and Pat Kinevane’s equally sublime Underneath.

Michael Hillard Mulcahy’s After Sarah Miles, set in Dingle, was attend by Dusigh’s Young Critic from Tralee.

The two Young Critics from Footsteps Youth Theatre attended Seamus Moran’s Have a Heart at the Friars Gate Theatre Kilmallock, Co.Limerick.

There were also plenty of full productions on offer including An Grianan’s touring production of Frank Pig Says Hello by Pat McCabe and Martin Lynch’s My English Tongue, My Irish Heart.

There were World Premieres aplenty with Co. Carlow Youth Theatre members being treated to Jockey by Willfredd Theatre Co at Visual, Carlow.

Before Monsters Were Made by Ross Dungan was another World Premiere at Project Arts Centre as was My Second Self at the Civic Theatre and The Ballad of Charlie & Cate at the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Our Young Critic from Donegal Youth Theatre attended Annie The Musical at The Balor Theatre.

Finally Niamh Murphy, one of our Young Critics from County Wexford Youth Theatre attended Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of A Gunman at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Here is her very fine video blog review of the production.

Have you seen the show?

Would you agree with Niamh?

Leaving an Imprint


Fabulous Beast / Liam Ó Maonlaí / Michael Keegan-Dolan

Cork Opera House

Reviewed 22 June 2012 by Sarah Brett, Niamh McCormack, Sarah McGooghan, Megan Moroney, and Aaron Mullaney

Rian as gaeilge translates as ‘imprint’. Inspired by Sean O’Riada (one of the most influential icons in the mid-20th century revival of Irish traditional music), Liam Ó Maonlaí ‘s music inspires powerful and emotional movement from both the cast of contemporary dancers, and, at the show’s end, the audience. The experience is unique and awakens the primal imprint of rhythm and joy within us. Along with O’Maonlai, Michael Keegan-Dolan, artistic director of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, has created a beautiful, passionate and moving ensemble of music and dance.

The technical abilities of both the dancers and musicians are evident throughout the performance. The organic beat of the dancers’ bare feet on the floor reinforced that of the bodhrán, combining to create an electric atmosphere. Although at times the dancers are not directly in sync with each other, the contemporary movement offers a context for this. Rian is a traditional Irish music lover’s paradise but the tribal beats and foreign and modern influences mean it is not exclusively so.

The stage layout was very striking as eerie shadows cast upon the light green backdrop helped create a feel of nature throughout the show – like how fire casts shadows upon the earth around it. Also the traditional semi-circular layout of the musicians and dancers worked well, as the audience felt as though they were taking part in a real Irish session.

There were certain aspects of the performance, however, that felt somewhat obvious and perhaps stereotypical. The nature of the stage layout made it difficult to see the whole performance at times; and there were some musical faux pas in terms of harmony. The ending of the performance was somewhat misleading as after the cast took their bow the show continued on, which was fortunate as the audience was then asked to come up on stage and dance with the cast. As minor as these flaws were, they were trifling compared to the overall performance of this outstanding show.

Rian gives a beautiful impression of the Irish culture and spirit. The performance offers an open and inclusive look into the Irish community. The dancers’ vivacious performance created an excitement in the audience and throughout the performance you had to suppress the urge to jump on stage and join the dancers. At the end, we finally were given this chance! Overall, this performance left an imprint on its audience and we highly recommend you to go and see it.


A Matter of Record


Dylan Tighe
Half Moon Theatre
Reviewed 23 June 2012

by Sadhbh Keating,Amaka Attoh,Kim Molloy,Eimear Deery

Record by Dylan Tighe is an extremely difficult performance to critique as it is an autobiographical, emotional play about Tighe’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Also, we must note that we saw only the second preview and the production may change, and grow.

The setting is, for the most part, drab. The pre-set is very intimate; it feels like Tighe’s personal space. Guitars, a drum set, a large writing desk and a leather chair all dressed in dark colours reflect the melancholic mood of the show.

Tighe uses music from his debut album Record, his own medical records, and multimedia to portray the concept of mental illness. Tighe takes on the role of himself which provides authenticity and real raw human emotion. This also highlights the isolating and internalised nature of this disease. Keeping with the intimate nature of the performance, the supporting cast of musicians and actors is very small. Aofie Duffin takes on the role of Tighe’s nurse and love interest but, unfortunately, her performance lacks credibility. A more positive point of Duffin’s performance is her singing voice. Her hauntingly beautiful voice captures the turmoil of emotions her acting didn’t. Daniel Reardon takes on the role of the austere doctor and gives a satisfactory performance.  Despite the small cast of supporting actors and their inability to effectively portray the story, powerful messages still come through, one being that medication may not always be effective to treat mental illness.

Elements such as Tighe’s own music also reinforced these messages and provided clarity to some of the more obscure images. Custom-made films about Tighe’s life and his ideas show his confusion and loneliness when in a depressed state, which gives the show a sense of reality. Tighe must be commended for this fearless production as he puts everything on the table.

Although the production deals with dark matters, humour and live music give it an uplift. We recommend it, although during parts of the show fantasy and reality collide, leading to confusion and ambiguity. This mirrors Tighe’s state of mind at the particular point in his life, and leaves the audience with much to contemplate.


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!


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