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.

Aftertaste Review By Pádraig Harrington

In our latest review, Youth Theatre Ireland’s own National Youth Theatre production comes under the watchful eye of the Young Critics gaze.

Aftertaste by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth is a thought-provoking, original piece that takes a well-timed look at a dystopian near future without any sugar-coating. 

Aftertaste is the culmination of 22 young people aged 16-20 from Youth Theatres across the country working together to celebrate the National Youth Theatre, an event organized by Youth Theatre Ireland and supported by the Abbey Theatre. This production is especially made for YouTube and was intended to be watched as a pre-record rather than as a live stream or in a theatre. It is  directed by National Youth Theatre Director Veronica Coburn.

The play is set in an Ireland where the National Alliance Party have rose to power led by President Sanbrooke Martin (Samuel Ferrie) on the one-year anniversary of the passing of the Health and Wellness Act, banning foods with a high sugar or fat content. As a result of this, many are left starving and Junk Advocates have arisen, people eating illegal foods on their social media accounts and condemning the government. Several of these Advocates have been going missing, including 21-year-old Lila Birch (Daisy Hartigan) who has been missing for 6 days. Lila’s sister, Eadie Birch (Ella O’Callaghan) is getting no answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, there is internal strife within the National Alliance Party; Vice-President Jana Kaminski (Julia Szarota) is vying for President Martin’s position and journalist Oisín Ó Hanluain (Odhran Exton) is seeking to undermine the President’s policies. 

These various political operatives, movie stars and the staff of The Royal Marine Restaurant eventually collide in a moment of frenzy at an ill- fated anniversary dinner honouring President Martin.

The excellent ensemble is completed by Caoimhe O’Farrell, Abbi Breen, Sadhbh McDonough, Tristan Spellman Molphy, Matthew Eglinton, Abhainn Harrington, Max Mufwasoni, Cara Mooney, Adam Henry, Aileen Broidy and Seán Loughrey.  

The actors had to overcome the obstacle of a pre-recorded performance and convey a realistic portrayal of an authoritarian regime. They were able to do this whilst maintaining a certain amount of levity. We were given a detailed overview of this darker life from multiple societal perspectives, political leaders and glamorous celebrities to the everyday people who are affected by their actions. Overall, the actors more than deliver on their attempts to engage, entertain and make us think. 

Sets were not heavily integral to this production and most often simple plain colour backgrounds were used with some exceptions. Basic props such as chairs, tables or podiums were used to set the scene. The politicians’ costumes are bright pinky-purple pastel colours while in comparison the outfits of the ordinary people are drab, dreary shades of brown. We also see the uniforms of The Royal Marine, crisp, professional attire. The work of lighting designer Suzzi Cummins is bright and powerful, stimulating the viewer and evoking emotional reactions. Sound designer Sinead Diskin and visual designer Cherie White work in tandem to provide an intense, rhythmic audio coupled with striking visuals which works together to pump up the audience and bring across the broader feelings of the piece. I think these various components combine to form a strong, successful use of design. 

In closing, Aftertaste is a unique play that peers into the darker sides of wellbeing and healthy eating. This is a show that cannot be missed. 

Aftertaste was broadcast on the Abbey Theatre’s YouTube Channel from Aug 8th- 15th 2021. Produced by Youth Theatre Ireland.

Pádraig is a member of Rusty Frog Youth Theatre, in Skibbereen, Co. Cork and is a Young Critic for 2021.

The River of WTF – a Podcast from the Young Critics

For our latest Young Critics podcast, four of our Young Critics sat down to discuss The River of Forgetfulness.

This far ranging discussion covers the  Outside the March Theatre  production, which was part of a 4 piece anthology called The Stream You Step In.

https://anchor.fm/alan1102/embed/episodes/The-River-of-WTF-e14o6qh/a-a67m9a6

This podcast was done as part of Youth Theatre Ireland’s Young Critics programme.

This podcast was recorded and produced by Young Critic Aodhán from POD Youth Theatre. Contributors were Aleisha from Making Waves YT, Chloe from Dreamstuff YT & Holly from Droichead YT.

Thank You For Your Labour Reviewed by Evie

Continuing with our look at the Outside the March and University of Windsor collaboration, The Stream You Step in, Evie reviews Thank You For Your Labour by Marcus Youssef for Young Critics.

The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom.

Through the project, OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.

Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef A group of white students is organizing an online music show to show solidarity with their racialized peers. For tonight’s meeting, they’ve invited the faculty’s only brown student to join them. Good intentions meet unspoken desires in this Zoom comedy about whiteness, isolation, and how hard it can be to do the right thing.

Directed by Mitchell Cushman Featuring: Caitlin Jasulaitis, Alannah Pedde, Elena Reyes, Brennan Roberts.

Evie is a member of WACT Youth Theatre and a Youth Theatre Ireland Young Critic for 2021.

The Stream You Step In – Reviewed by the Young Critics.

For our latest reviews, the Young Critics were able to watch recordings of two of the four productions from The Stream You Step In.

This co-production from The University of Windsor and Outside the March is an anthology of original plays commissioned specifically for the School of Dramatic Arts’ graduating BFA students occurring entirely over Zoom. Through the project, OtM is supporting some of Canadian theatre’s pivotal playwriting voices: Elena Eli Belyea, Karen Hines, David Yee and Marcus Youssef.

The shows under review are Thank You for Your Labour by Marcus Youssef and Karen Hines’ The River of Forgetfulness.

Thank You For Your Labour; A Stunningly Relevant Online Theatre Piece By Éabha Phelan

Thank You for Your Labour, written by Marcus Youseff, is a thought-provoking and bluntly realistic piece about the repercussions of forced allyship and performative activism.

In creating Thank You for Your Labour, Toronto-based theatre company, Outside The March, in collaboration with the University of Windsor, have created a relatable and almost immersive zoom-play experience that will have the audience rethinking their approach to modern politics. The play shows three white students, Meghan (Caitlin Jasulaitis), Emily (Alannah Pedde), and Steven (Brennan Roberts), discussing what they plan to do for their University’s concert in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. In an effort to promote diversity they invite their class’s only brown student, Alicia (Elena Reyes), to work with them. However, between high egos, schoolgirl crushes and the battle for political correctness, things quickly begin to go downhill.

In this play, Meghan desperately attempts to be politically correct and almost preaches to her friends about all the things they’re doing wrong. However, in her attempts to be the best ally she can be, she ends up seeming to only see Alicia for her race instead of as an actual person. The play being over Zoom creates an environment where you feel as though you too are in the call and are involved in the awkward tension that is created. This provides an insightful look, in a blunt but impactful way, into how white people can often end up speaking over people of colour and trying to be ‘white saviours’, an issue that is particularly relevant with the largely social media based Black Lives Matter Movement.

While the play’s message is about race, the only character who is overly focused on that is Meghan and all the others have their own, completely unrelated motivations. Emily and Alicia are only there because they’re crushing on each other and Steven just wants to play his song. All the characters, including Meghan, are beautifully developed with complex backgrounds and morals and are not what they appear to be at face value.

Although the ending was rather flimsy, with the song feeling random and forced and there seemingly being no consequences for Meghan’s mistreatment of the rest of the group, I feel that it didn’t take away from the main focus and message of the piece.

Many theatre companies felt as though their passion was being ripped away from them when Covid-19 began to spread like wildfire and the world went into lockdown. In a desperate attempt to salvage our craft we began grasping at the brand-new concept of ‘zoom-plays’, with some creating touching art in ways we had never experienced before and others crumbling disastrously before our eyes. Thank You for Your Labour from director Mitchell Cushman, is undeniably one of the successes of the pandemic.

Rating: 4/5

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The River of Forgetfulness or Get me the Fuck out of this Zoom PlayReviewed By Sarah Carolan

If you are an actor not being able to perform, or you hate logging on to Zoom meetings, then this meandering storyline is for you.

The show starts off with three flatmates; Sammy, who was meant to play Jo from Llittle Women (Sam Cranston), Katelyn, who was meant to play Satan in Paradise Lost  (Katlyn Doyle) and Alison, who was meant to play Bill Slank in Peter and the Star Catcher(Alison Adams). They are on separate devises on a zoom call. They start to quote their plays and put on costumes, becoming their characters and talk about how in an alternate universe, without Covid, they’d be on stage. They wait for their friend Caleb (Caleb Pauzé) to join outside their house so he can use their wifi. We learn that Caleb was meant to play Adam in Paradise Lost. When he joins he starts to quote the others’ lines and asks to be let onto the house. The girls realise something is wrong with him as he won’t talk as himself and he hints that he is not human and that the same will happen to them. Taking a twist, Alison reveals that she had been writing a play, explaining the event that follow. The characters face a mix between reality and fiction and not being able to figure out which is which.

As I watched the characters try to puzzle their way out, I couldn’t help but empathise with their confusion, comparing it to the uncertainty during the pandemic.

Even though the play was relatively short, it seemed dragged out. I think this was because of the somewhat confusing story line. Even afterwards I found myself trying to puzzle out what happened. That being said, the way the play was put together was impeccable, all of the elements worked well together to make a very visually interesting piece.

Music played a big role, with an upbeat suspenseful drum playing when the story reached a dramatic point. I think that this was helpful to link the pieces together.

Another interesting technique was the use of multiple devises and a blend of live and recorded scenes. All of the characters had their own computers that followed the action from many different angles. At one point the three roommates interact with characters that looked suspiciously like the three girls. I was completely in awe by how they accomplished this. By using all of the functions on Zoom they were able to apply a video background so they could make it look like they were interacting with themselves.

Though this play had twists and turns at every corner, it’s an amazing example of how Zoom plays shouldn’t  be written off, instead should be admired as an alternative art form.

Outside the March- University of Windsor- directed by Griffin McInnes- written by Karen Hines for university students that weren’t able to perform on stage because of the pandemic.

Sarah Carolan 22/05/2021

Thank You For Your Labour – Reviewed by Anna Lynch

Marcus Youssef’s Zoom performance Thank You For Your Labour presents cultural wake up calls to those with idealistic ideas of allyship and solidarity – and should be thanked for its raising awareness of the white saviour complex.

In partnership with the University of Windsor, Outside the March’s Thank You For Your Labour is a refreshing production. It follows the story of four college students as they navigate the perilous subject of race and being allies to people of colour. The beginnings of a new crush and commanding, obstinate friendships also play thematic roles in the play.  The online production opens up with two friends, Megan and Emily, as they communicate via the platform of Zoom to prepare for a concert they are hosting in support of Black Lives Matter. As the call proceeds, we are introduced to Tyler who is unintentionally ignorant and clueless. We also meet Alicia, the only person of colour on the call, who is subject to the smothering attempts of allyship made by Megan.

Caitlin Jasulaitis (Megan), characterizes the hypocritical, excessive white saviour of the 21st century. Capturing the spirit of a domineering, dismissive person making many failed attempts of putting everyone at ease, Jasulaitis adds the element of excruciating uncomfortableness, making the performance so memorable. Alannah Pedde portrays the pacifying character of Emily effectively and Brennan Roberts (Tyler) represents the insensitivity of others. Elena Reves embodies the role of Alicia in an undeniably remarkable performance. She plays the difficult role of being the only person of colour in an overwhelmingly white situation, and also accurately highlights the performative activism of the others. This subsequently compels the viewers to debate their own internal views and actions on the matter.

Directed by Mitchell Cushman, the play affords viewers a new and exciting way to view theatre. The production managed to utilise all the features of Zoom, even allowing the audience to choose which part of the story they would like to follow, by enabling them to choose their own breakout room, which was an effective and unconventional way to tell a story. It gave us insight into a tense and hugely awkward zoom call, which felt incredibly realistic, even down to the inside jokes referred to by the characters. The use of music at the end, where all characters eventually performed a piece was a united and unified way to finish the play.

Arguably, the script was at times cringey, perhaps trying too hard to resonate with a younger audience. However, the questions posed – what does it mean to be a good ally? How aware are we of white privilege and its impacts? –  cancelled this out by highlighting inadvertent racism and asks us to delve deeper into the misguided happenings of everyday life.

Thank You For Your Labour is an advocative performance, that urges viewers to see themselves in the characters, and is one to watch the next time you’re in the mood for a reality check.

Rating: 4/5

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The Glass Menagerie & Medea – Two Classic Gate Theatre productions. Reviewed by Young Critics Katie Lacey Curtis & Marc Cheevers

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.

 

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Gate

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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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.

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Marc Cheevers from Explore Youth Theatre, Leixlip, Co.Kildare turns his eye to The Glass Menagerie.

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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 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.

 

Rough Magic’s Much Ado About Nothing reviewed by Máiréad Phelan

The 2020 iteration of Young Critics, has like most events globally, been deeply affected by the COVID19 pandemic.

Usually, at this time of year, we are all buzzing with Young Critics excitement. Our group would have met for the first time and had a great weekend together in Dublin.  As spring moves towards summer, the group would begin thinking about some of the great shows they could see in their local venues and start to make their critical reviews. None of that will happen this year.

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.

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Rough Magic Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing. Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Our next Young Critic is Máiréad Phelan. She is member of Free Radicals Youth Theatre, based at Siamsa Tíre Theatre, Tralee, Co.Kerry.  Here she reviews Rough Magic Theatre Company’s touring production of Much Ado About Nothing. 

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.

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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.