From April 28th – May 1st 2020 the Abbey Theatre broadcast fifty short monologues as an immediate response to COVID-19 and the first lockdown in Ireland.
The brief was simple, What should Ireland write on a postcard to itself?
A whole year later, our newest group of Young Critics had the unique opportunity to revisit one of the pieces and watch it in isolation. Thanks to the generosity of the creators, the group had a private viewing of The Rock, written by Phillip McMahon and performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne.
We have a trio of short reviews from Anna Lynch,Evie Howard and Sarah Carolan for you to enjoy.
First up, Anna Lynch shares this review
The Rock by Phillip McMahon, part of the Dear Ireland project by the Abbey Theatre. Rating: ★★★★
The Rock poses to Ireland some uncomfortable questions, mainly how far have we as a society really come in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance?
Written by Phillip McMahon and part of Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project, The Rock is presented to us in the form of a video diary filmed by the only character. It’s recorded during a Covid-19 lockdown as a way of documenting the run-up to her wedding and to have as a keepsake for her future, but presently non-existent kids. We are privy to the troubles and turmoil the relationship between the character and her partner Carol have endured, see how internalised homophobia is still present in modern day Ireland and learn how important communication and co-operation are in relationships.
Caoilfhionn Dunne portrays the role of the angsty other half perfectly, capturing not only the essence of the lockdown madness, but also portraying the pressure of being a lesbian in Ireland. Taking into consideration the fact that the entire monologue is self-recorded and has no director, one has to applaud how smoothly the video runs.
The entire performance is intimate and personal, creating the illusion that the viewers are part of their lives. The script was outstanding, full of the Irish humour we all know and love. In particular, McMahon’s consistent references to rocks was extraordinarily clever when describing the feelings and thoughts of the character. It makes us think about how Irish views on the LGBTQ+ community and how indiscreet homophobia, even from loved ones, can have a profound impact on lives.
At times the monologue was perhaps spoken too fast, making it difficult to understand. However, overall, the short performance was excellent. This is definitely one to watch if you’re in the mood for some food for thought.
Evie Howard writes:
|In this witty and realistic account of lockdown life in Ireland, Phillip McMahon tells an engaging and thought provoking story of a Dublin woman struggling with tradition, family, and identity.|
The Rock was written as part of the Dear Ireland project, an initiative run by the Abbey Theatre in order to keep theatre alive during a nationwide lockdown. The idea is simple; 50 pieces written by 50 playwrights which were then self-taped by 50 actors. All the pieces were written with one theme in mind; ‘what should Ireland write on a postcard to itself?’
This theme is one that Phillip McMahon pulls off particularly successfully, raising a number of talking points about Irish society. In The Rock, we watch as the main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) speaks directly into the camera in a way that feels very vulnerable and intimate. The piece is formatted as a video diary and we learn that she has proposed to her girlfriend and since revoked her proposal, telling a story of self-doubt and relationship troubles relatable to many. She also tells of problems with family, as she struggles to rebuild bridges with her homophobic mother. McMahon manages to pack a lot of information into the short few minutes of this piece of theatre while still keeping the dialogue natural, and Dunne makes a great performance, keeping consistent energy throughout.
As for negatives, of which there are few, the dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially for those unfamiliar with the Dublin accent, and the background is bland and can be distracting, but these issues are minor, and given The Rock was self-taped under unique circumstances, it can be forgiven. Overall, well worth the watch and I would recommend seeking it out should the opportunity to view it arise again.
Finally Sarah writes this review from April 30th.
The Rock- online performance for Dear Ireland- Abby theatre- written by Phillip McMahon- performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne
The rock is an insight into the stone cold society that we live in, with deep rooted beliefs that affect us more than we may think. A worthwhile watch that you, for sure, won’t take for granted.
The main character (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the camera about her experience of lockdown through the format of a video diary. She tells us about the societal pressure she feels in everyday life and gives us an insight to how she makes decisions that affect her. She proposed to her girlfriend, but questioned what marriage meant to her. She tells us about the strain on the relationship with her mother, who has never fully accepted her sexuality.
Overall it was an extremely well put together piece. The subtlety of Caoilfionn’s performance was impeccable, to the point where it felt natural, as if she was talking to us through the diary. I also think the online medium was used to its fullest potential. Being able to adapt a story to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and not feel out of place, is a huge skill.
The design was simple and didn’t distract from the piece, but I wonder if a more cluttered backdrop could have reflected on the obstacles the characters have overcome.
With that said, it carries an extremely important message, making you examine the importance of “social norms” in today’s society.
In the latest review from our Young Critics, we venture again online and review our peers at Giant Wolf Youth Theatre. Working in tandem, our pair of critics log onto Discord for a seasonal online offering.
The horrific murder of a normal family, a decaying body at the bottom of a lake, the disappearance of a brother that cannot be solved, this radio play has it all.
Although Discord is a website primarily used for online gaming, Giant Wolf Youth Theatre in Tallaght, Dublin have given the platform their own unique stamp by using it to perform ‘Hallowe’en Horror Show’ on the eve of the spookiest day of the year at 7pm. This live entertainment was a free, non-ticketed event and contains six pieces created a few weeks before airing by its members. However, we will just be giving a slight taster into this great act to give our readers a sense of the show. The audience are able to post their live reactions in a separate text channel as the performance occurs and actors are also able to communicate with the listeners, answering questions while not disturbing the show.
Written and performed by Young Critics’ own Heather Jones, the introductory piece The Waiting Game is set in a bedroom. Usually it’s a place that suggests comfort and security. Any feeling of that is instantly taken from participants who tune in with how surreal this performance is.
It centralises on the death of the character’s family from a creature described as having “natural sickly white skin” and “tainted crimson all over its arms, legs and neck”. The murder is witnessed by the only character in the show and we’re given great insight into the emotions she feels, “My whole body was numb sitting in the silence”. She hides in her bedroom while recounting the story and it ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving the audience to their imaginations. Jones’ acting skills came across the medium phenomenally and caused everyone witnessing this masterpiece heart’s to race, visualising the gruesome scene.
The second piece is named Picturesque and is made by James Chatham, Trudy Nolan, and Kai Foley, performed by the writers as well as Ella Kinsella.
We are transported back fifteen years where we meet Quinn Smith. The show is based around the interviewing of Quinn on the 7th of September, 2010 at 3pm, and gradually we learn about the events which unfolded and lead to his rehabilitation. We are presented with two different versions of the event and are left conflicted on who to believe.
At the beginning of the story, Quinn conveys himself as a loving husband and father to young Jack and Alice, describing the details of that night with loving narration. But with the twist ending, we’re left bewildered, wondering if this is all an act and if he really is the person he acts out to be. After multiple forms of evidence line up with Quinn’s recounting are presented from the interviewers attempting to convict him, what comes next is something nobody could predict. A bone chilling sinister laugh, challenging Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ is heard echoing through the device’s speakers and leaves you holding your breath in anticipation. This piece is confusing at the beginning and listeners are unsure where the story is heading, but ends up being very well thought out and keeps the audience engaged with its constant plot twists.
The final act is titled Thicker than Water and is created from the mind of Charley Ashe, also performed by Ashe as well as Trudy Nolan and James Chatham.
Our last journey tells the comedic but equally frightening tale of three characters Kevin, Katie and Ciara. These seventeen year olds are subjected to an interview by Kevin for his school project that results in both girls retelling the perplexing events that happened to them both in a Wicklow forest. This show is reminiscent to the Irish film The Hole In The Ground directed by Lee Cronin, but takes that plot to a new level with the sheer adrenaline experienced when hearing the scary situations these girls end up in. It has a great sense of place with strong Irish accents and its careful placements of sound effects help the overall feeling of an outdoor setting.
Hallowe’en Horror Show by Giant Wolf Youth Theatre is an extremely immersive experience and a surreal insight into the world of horror and all things terrifying. The wonderful narrator Cal has such a relaxing and pleasant voice. It’s extremely soothing between each piece, which just makes it all the more disturbing when we’re thrown back into these six worlds of mayhem. For only having a short and limited time to prepare, everyone involved in this production worked very well to produce a wonderful event, getting their audience in the mood to fully celebrate Halloween the next day.
Show reviewed on Oct 30th, and review submitted Nov 8th
As the dust settles on this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, two of our Young Critics give us their respective takes of Dead Centre’s To Be A Machine (Version 1.0)
In this episode of The Prop Room, Áindréas Fallon Verbruggen take look at To Be A Machine.
This online play created by DeadCentre and Mark O’Connell for the Dublin Theatre Festival, explores the mechanics of humanity and if we are really as different as the machines we use.
Here Aoife Murphy gives us her take on To Be A Machine (Version 1.0)
Laughing in the face of level 3 restrictions, Dublin Theatre Festival held their head up high as they re-imagined what we know as theatre and delivered a superb socially distanced performance.
Developed and supported by the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, ‘To Be a Machine (Version 1.0)’ by Dead Centre and Mark O’Connell, is adapted from the Wellcome Prize-winning book by Mark and explores the idea of theatre without the barrier of a body. Staring critically acclaimed actor Jack Gleeson, playing himself, he actively attempts to not be a machine while the audience watches the live performance from Project Arts Centre in the comfort of their beds.
What is a forty five minute performance on the exploration of technological possibility and the limits of live performance, feels like a mere second. I found myself craving for more bewilderment when it ended. With its plot line hard to follow, I’m still confused as to what I witnessed exactly. But I think that’s what makes this piece that bit even more interesting. It doesn’t have one solid interpretation, so audiences can take what they want from it.
The slightly eerie atmosphere and wonderful cinematography makes gaining a sense of a personal connection to Jack seamlessly easy as he looks straight into the camera, into us, and rarely breaks eye contact. His soft voice is calming and Jack deals with some minor technical issues very professionally.
The only thing that took me out of the immersive experience is seeing my fellow Young Critic’s faces uploaded on a tablet screen, placed where we would have been sitting if we were physically at the theatre. It’s strange to witness; however it gave me some joy recognising people I know in the sea of digital profiles.
This trippy theatre performance will mess with your mind, challenging what you think you know with the exploration of the philosophical concept of what is existence. In a world constantly looking for answers to big questions, I feel that if this play were to give a solid response, it would suggest that there’s always an absolute to the trivial parts of life.
A 5/5 star performance rating.
Reviewed by Aoife Murphy Oct 3rd 2020.
You can listen to an audio version of this review here:
Aoife is a member of Explore Youth Theatre in Leixlip Co, Kildare and Áindréas is a member of Mr. Sands Youth Theatre,Bray, Co.Wicklow. Both are Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critics for 2020.
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.
Recently I saw Medea at the Gate Theatre and it has quickly set itself as one of my favourite performances.
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 Lacey Curtis is a member of Making Waves Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.
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.
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 Cheevers is a member of Explore Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2020.
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.
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.
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.
As 2017 comes to an end we’re taking the opportunity to post some reviews from our Young Critics.
In total the Young Critics saw 15 shows this year. These include the six they saw in Dublin as part of Young Critics as well shows in the Abbey Theatre, their local venues, The Edinburgh Fringe and even the West End in London.
First up Lara Cody from Explore Youth Theatre gives us her impression of Room
I went to see the production of Room in the Abbey Theatre with high expectations. The production was first an international best selling novel which won many awards. This was then brought to screen and finally stage. The many awards Emma Donoghue’s writing has won, along with many positive comments from friends and family led me to expect a heartbreaking and moving production that will bring me to tears. I was not disappointed.
Room tells the story of ‘Ma’ (Witney White), a young woman who was abducted at 19, she was held in a shed made into an all-purpose room, where she was beaten, raped and impregnated and her 5 year old son Jack (Darmani Eboji). The production begins with a light atmosphere as Ma and Jack go about their daily routines. It seems that everything is perfectly fine and there is no mention of ‘Old Nick’, their captor. Once Jack is asleep, we see the distress and frustration of Ma. The light atmosphere changes dramatically to a much darker, somber mood as Old Nick (Liam McKenna) steps into the room. The mood becomes increasingly darker and tense as the first half progresses and Ma is becomes more desperate to escape the room. The building tension climaxes in an incredibly powerful song sung by Ma. It left me clinging on to the edge of my seat, completely blown away and consumed by the performance and production. I did not want it to stop for the interval!
One thing that I was sceptical about was the musical aspect of the production. I was not sure how they would turn such a tragic story into a musical as there have been productions where the added musical interpretation has taken away from the powerful tale. However, I was happily surprised by the incredible music that most certainly added to the overall production. The moving and breathtaking ballads by Ma allowed us an insight into her thoughts and emotions, as the story is told from Jack’s perspective. I must admit that it was the musical talents of Witney White (Ma), Fela Lufadeju (Big Jack), Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph (Composers) that brought me to tears and left me talking about the production days after.
The clever device of splitting the part of Jack into ‘Little Jack’ and ‘Big Jack’ was a great success. The use of a child actor allowed us to witness the innocence of a child along with accurately representing the intimate and protective relationship of a mother and child, while the older actor allowed us to see how imaginative, colourful, curious and questioning Jack is. This was a brilliant way to solve the problem of a child actor carrying the responsibility of such a big part. This Abbey Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East co-production was a great success and received a well deserved standing ovation. ‘Room’ deals with themes such as abduction, rape and depression in a powerful way, leaving the audience speechless and thinking of the production for days after. 5 stars.
Lara Coady is a member of Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip Co.Kildare. She was a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2017.
Meanwhile Cian McGrath from Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Tralee has this to say on Room.
Room is, at its heart, a play about love; more specifically, the love between a mother and her son. In Room these two characters are forced to endure their existence in a single room, with no contact from the outside world. One would think that this would allow for a great amount of empathy and emotional connection. But this play can only grasp for such emotion through contrived, over-sentimentalised scenes, whose only feeling it can evoke in this viewer is boredom and annoyance.
Room begins with our narrator, Big Jack (Fela Lufadeju) who narrates the daily process behind life in what is simply known as ‘Room’. This is when our two principal characters are introduced; Ma (Whitney White) and Little Jack (Harrison Wilding). This mother and son duo go about their daily routine in the most over-enthusiastic method possible; which should serve as a hint for the forced emotion the play tries to pry out of its audience as it progresses. Their rudimentary schedule is played out with such happiness that one would expect both characters to break out in song at any moment; fortunately, this is not the case.
Not much information is revealed about our characters’ situation, but as the play progresses we realise that Ma was kidnapped years ago, and that inside Room she gave birth to Jack, her five-year old son. Her kidnapper, known only as Old Nick, is Jack’s biological father. And yet at no point are any of the real emotions behind captivity revealed; both mother and son simply go about their day with larger than life enthusiasm, except when they engage in shouting matches with one another. Little Jack’s thoughts are occasionally conveyed by Big Jack, but this is just another diversion; as the play progresses Big Jack’s role diminishes significantly.
This is essentially the major flaw of Room; its need for emotional intensity means that as the play progresses each scene invariably ends with someone shouting out in anger or hurt. In no scene are there ever any moments of quiet reflection; through mere dialogue the play becomes a bombardment of sound, and an assault on the viewer. At no point does this drama offer us a moment of silence, which could at least punctuate the passionate intensity of emotion displayed in other scenes. Room can’t seem to function without scenes in which characters bring themselves to the highest point of their emotional brevity, only for the next scene to begin with the same normal, regular emotion only to catapult into another barrage of furious shouting in an endless, tiring pattern.
Onstage there is a large box which represents Room, the enclosed space in which Jack and Ma are confined to. And yet it never feels as though they are trapped in a confined space; there is nothing claustrophobic about Room’s set. Instead, it opts for a more unconventional approach; the set serves as something malleable, at one point even revolving. But while these may seem like ingenious techniques, they soon grow tiresome and are little more than gimmicks to make up for the play’s other deficiencies. Its interesting movements may captivate at first, but like the play, they do nothing to enforce the idea of entrapment or claustrophobia. Instead, they feel like little more than a smaller stage built solely for the purpose of flashy diversions.
Ultimately Room is a failure, due to its inability to understand the limits of emotion. Its scenes of emotional intensity play out in dizzying fashion, with each one further reinforcing the play’s lack of knowledge about an audience’s capacity for empathy. Room wants to be a rollercoaster of emotions, but ultimately it is a collection of missed notes and woeful script making decisions that only alienate any potential viewer. Witnessing it is like living through Groundhog Day; the reason for it may change, but each scene begins without any sense of what tone will be conveyed throughout, and will ultimately end in another failed attempt at emotional connection.
Its deficiencies can be effectively captured in one scene in the play’s first act, in which Jack counts as far as he can to avoid having to hear any noise outside his room. Outside his closet a rape scene occurs between Old Nick and Ma, and it is clear that this is a regular occurrence in their lives. As this is happening the stage revolves, as Jack’s counting is timed with the creaking of the bed outside his closet.
The whole thing becomes a twisted, sordid game and a parody of the emotion it tries to provoke. As the set continues to revolve onstage, the play has veered off wildly, and is far removed from the realm of emotional relatability.
Room is essentially that; a revolving stage with a clear target, but one that can never effectively grasp it. Its diversions can only go so far as to distract the viewer from it’s clear problem in conveying emotion.
Cian McGrath is a member of Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Tralee, Co.Kerry and a Youth Theatre Young Critics for 2017.