It’s almost two month since the Young Critics panel discussion at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Pierce McNee from Dundalk reflects on three action packed days in Dublin.
Friday Oct 7th 2016
It was an eventful afternoon in Dublin, as ever. Across the street a drum was was being beaten and a group of dancers performed to a large crowd. We were all reunited at the GPO and it felt like an age since the last time we had all seen each other. A great feeling came upon us all as we knew we were in for an absolute treat of a weekend.
We could not wait!
We made our way to the Dublin Fringe Festival Lab, where we had our first workshop discussing what the Dublin Theatre Festival is, the different elements of the festival and what makes it different from going to see a play which is not running at a theatre festival. We also discussed the Project Arts Centre and its history.
After having some tasty pizza and further discussions, we headed over to the Project Arts Centre to see our first show of the weekend: Wishful Beginnings. This was a show that I think we can all safely say we will never forget!
After the show we made our way back to the Marino Institute of Education whilst having intense post-show discussions as a group about Wishful Beginnings. This was by far the most interesting discussion I’ve had about a play as every single one of us had a different opinion. Some people loved it and some people hated. Not only that but everyone had their own ideas in regards to the themes explored in the show and how they were explored.
We returned to Marino and got ready for bed. Not one of us could cease to ponder on Wishful Beginnings.
Sat Oct 8th 2016
The next morning we had our second workshop where we discussed the history of the two most well known theatres in Ireland: The Abbey Theatre and The Gate Theatre. We talked about the nature of the plays they showcase and their target audience, as well as many other areas.
We would be going to see a play in the Gate that day. The play was called The Father. We discussed this play as well as our second play of the day: Alien Documentary, which was a piece of documentary theatre. This was something that I had never seen before.
After this, we went to see The Father. We also had the opportunity to meet with some of the stars of the show, Owen Roe, Fiona Bell and Peter Gaynor backstage. We had the chance to ask them some questions about the show.
We then had lunch in the NAYD offices. This was hugely interesting as we got to see the workplace of the people who are in charge of all youth drama across Ireland.
Next it was off to the Jervis shopping centre for a quick spot of window-shopping and hot-chocolate drinking. It was then time for Alien Documentary. This was was being staged in the Project Arts Centre. When we got there I proceeded to take a quick trip to the toilet. As I was about entering the toilets, who did I meet? None other than PJ Gallagher himself. The famous Irish comedian and actor. He would be starring in Alien Documentary.
I will now be known by him as “that lad I met coming out of the jacks”!
When we got back to Marino, we all contributed eagerly to conversations on the plays we had seen that day. We also indulged in a few delicious chocolate treats to fuel our talks.
Sunday Oct 9th
On Sunday morning, we had one final workshop where we discussed each play we had seen and gave our opinions on them. We then prepared ourselves for our final Young Critics task: taking part in the NAYD Young Critics Panel.
This was where we were split into groups based on which of the three plays we wished to speak about. I decided that that I would like to speak about The Father. We would be giving our opinions and discussing the play in front of an audience of roughly fifty people and Dr. Karen Fricker would chair the discussions.
First we participated in a mock panel with Karen in order to become familiar with what the proceedings would involve. I was slightly nervous but I knew that I would have my Young Critics colleagues as well as Karen and Alan there to support me.
We concluded the panel with an opportunity for audience members to ask us, the Young Critics, any questions they had regarding the plays we had seen or any element of the Young Critics experience.
As soon as the Q&A session ended, we all came to the realisation that our time on the NAYD Young Critics Programme had now finished. We all had an immensely melancholic feeling. However, we knew that we would all remain friends and chat regularly. We also knew that we would keep in contact with Alan King and the NAYD. Our time as NAYD Young Critics might have come to an end but our time as young critics outside of the programme had only just begun.
This has been a truly incredible experience for me. I would like to thank Alan King and Dr. Karen Fricker. As well as Debbie, Graham, Ciara and everyone at the NAYD for making the programme possible. I would recommend the NAYD Young Critics Programme to absolutely everyone.
Pierce McNee is a member of Dundalk Youth Theatre and was an NAYD Young Critic for 2016
In the latest in our series of Young Critics reviews, Pierce McNee from Dundalk Youth Theatre traveled to London to see The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Cast: Aoife Duffin, Amy Conroy, Louis Dempsey, Imogen Doel, Colm Gormley, Aaron Heffernan, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, Raymond Keane, Gary Lilburn, Edward MacLiam and Helen Norton
Performed at Shakespeare’s Globe; reviewed on Monday, 18th July 2016
Set against the backdrop of Dublin 1916, this is a classic play with an alternative twist, featuring an all-Irish cast. This choice of setting — one hundred years after the events that sparked Ireland’s drive towards independence — makes the staging of this production extremely significant. Katherine (Aoife Duffin) appears on the stage at the start of play and sings, passionately, an Irish ballad written by Morna Regan (dramaturg and lyricist) especially for the production. This firmly establishes the 1916 setting and showcases Duffin as a standout performer and a force to be reckoned with.
The Taming of the Shrew tells the story of two sisters, Katherine and Bianca. Bianca is intensely keen on being married off to a handsome suitor. Katherine has no ambitions to become attached to a man. There is one problem: Bianca cannot marry before Katherine, a.k.a. the shrew, is herself paired off.
Going in, I was rather sceptical as to whether or not the production would cater for only an Irish audience, but it does not overly enforce the 1916 theme, which only becomes apparent on a few occasions. For example, a small fraction of the history is played out in the lyrics of Katherine’s two ballads. This make the theme subtly present throughout the performance but the production is kept grounded overall in the original story.
Caroline Byrne’s production is full of side-splitting antics whilst still exposing the serious and sometimes poignant aspects of the play. The misogynistic elements are portrayed with the earnest tone they deserve. The comedic facet is aided in particular by Aaron Heffernan as Lucentio, with his incredible physical comedy and natural wittiness.
Other notable performances include Edward MacLiam as Petruchio, who offers a truly gritty portrayal of the character. He brings an amazing sense of tension with Katherine and this really keeps the audience on the edge of their seats for the intense scenes between them. Helen Norton as Grumio plays her character with great jocularity but also sincerity in the more sombre scenes.
The set, designed by Chiara Stephenson, starts with the traditional Globe stage design with its balcony and pillars. A large black structure is built into the opening at the upstage centre of the stage. This opens up at various points to reveal a staircase. At certain moments during the first half, the stage becomes a 1916 classroom as a prodigious abacus and an anatomical skeleton hurtle onto the stage. A pit of dirty water also appears at the downstage centre of the stage in which Katherine stands while singing one of her ballads.
The costumes, also in Stephenson’s more than capable hands, are eminently satisfactory and greatly fitting to the production. Many of the costumes are 1916-inspired with the women’s pieces heavily influenced by the Gibson Girl look. This also introduces the theme of women’s rights one hundred years ago and also in today’s society. The final speech, delivered by Katherine, allows us to reflect on how much has changed in terms of women’s rights since 1916, when women were so poorly treated.
Pierce is an NAYD Young Critic for 2016 and a member of Dundalk Youth Theatre in Co. Louth.
Invitation to a Journey
Reviewed on 21 July 2016
€22 million – the figure Eileen Gray’s Dragon Chair sold for in 2009. That’s all most people know about her. This production uncovers a great deal more than this fact, exploring the personal encounters in Gray’s life and sharing the accomplishments of this Irish artist with the Irish public.
Invitation to a Journey explores Gray’s life in vivid detail, from her colourful relationship with Damia, her French lover (portrayed powerfully by Kate Brennan), to her innovative career as an architect and designer. It is a co-production of Fishamble: The New Play Company, CoisCéim Dance Theatre, the contemporary music group Crash Ensemble and Galway International Arts Festival, and is written and performed in a groundbreaking way. The roles of the three dancers, three actors, and four musicians are melded to the extent that in some scenes it is difficult to tell them apart, especially in one scene where Damia and the dancers fight over a chair, all essentially becoming dancers.
The musicians wear costumes suited to the era and have their hair crimped in a ‘20s style, which connects them to the dancers in particular, as they have the same hairstyle. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my mother Deirdre O’Leary was involved in this production as one of the musicians).
The show opens with the three dancers offering their interpretation of Gray’s architecture through movement. Half a dozen nine-foot-tall doors on either side of the stage are then flung open by the remaining cast members, which segues into the auction of the dragon chair. As the cast bid for the chair, Ingrid Craigie — the actor playing Eileen Gray — sits in a chair behind them and becomes fleetingly visible as the bidders exit the stage and the lights dim. Her presence becomes much stronger as the show progresses, although at times that presence is overshadowed by the sheer amount of things going on onstage.
Halfway through, the show enacts the construction of e.1027, the iconic house Gray designed for herself and her lover the Romanian architect Jean Badovici. String outlining the foundations is taped to the stage by one of the dancers as Gray struts around the stage carrying blueprints. Only shortly afterwards, Le Corbusier (played by Ronan Leahy) paints lewd murals on the pristine walls of e.1027, nude.
In an era when most women were married off, Eileen Gray was openly bisexual, almost insanely driven, and creative. She was modern when it wasn’t mainstream and this show echoes that crazy creative determination that possessed her. While this show ambitiously melds the roles of dancer, actor and musician, it would be interesting to see what the difference in dynamic would be if the musicians had more dialogue with the rest of the cast and if Gray was more involved in scenes with the dancers. The mixture of concrete and abstract information presented through the different art forms gave a strong impression of someone’s personality. It seemed to be trying to express an inner creativity and drive that I now associate with Eileen Gray.
Ciara is an NAYD Young Critic for 2016 and a member of Fracture/ Play Youth Theatre in Tipperary
The Young Critics Panel will take part on Oct 9th at 1pm at Project Cube. Chaired by Dr. Karen Fricker
Two of the Young Critics, Emily McGee from Kilkenny Youth Theatre and Clodagh Healy from Free Radicals Youth Theatre in Tralee, Co. Kerry, both reviewed Chapter House Theatre Company’s touring production of Sense and Sensibility. The show toured Ireland in June 2016.
Hello Venue Managers,
As you probably know the Young Critics is one of NAYD’s most popular programmes. Every year sixteen young people from across Ireland are selected to take part in the programme. Typically this involves two residential weekends each year in which the Young Critics get to see up to five professional theatre productions, participate in many workshops around the art of criticism and then take part in a public panel discussion as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. NAYD fully subsidises all costs for the participants.
Last year we piloted some new and exciting angles to the Young Critics Programme and were able to expand the Young Critics programme beyond those lucky sixteen that get to take part.
Through a partnership approach we are involving more young people in their local communities, developing stronger relationships between venues and youth theatres and helping to build and sustain local audiences for theatre in that community.
We are approaching local Arts Centres and venues to come on board to help support the development of the Young Critics.
Between now and the end of May we are asking the Young Critics to become programmers and select one professional production that they feel they and their fellow youth theatre members might enjoy. With the support of their youth theatre leader they will then organize a theatre trip to a professional production in their local Arts Centre or venue.
We are asking venues to include their local Young Critics on their mailing lists and also offer them two complimentary tickets to a suitable professional production in their venue between now and then.
It is also hoped that the venue could offer each youth theatre a Special Youth Theatre Group Rate to that performance. You probably already have this in place anyway it is the perfect opportunity to introduce one.
The Young Critics will then do a short video blog on the piece they saw and submit it to NAYD. From here, four of them will be invited to write reviews for the Young Critics Blog.
These reviews will then be published and freely available to all.
The benefits are huge for all involved. The venues will be building new audiences and all the young people will get to see even more quality theatre at discount prices. This should encourage them to go and see more theatre and broaden their love and knowledge of the art form. As cost is one of the biggest factors in not attending theatre we believe that once the spark is ignited, and there is an added incentive to attend, they will choose to go to more and more performances over the coming years. This will also have a very a major positive impact on how they make their own theatre.
All partner venues will be fully credited on the NAYD website and will be thanked in person on the day of the Young Critics Panel during the Dublin Theatre Festival.
If you had any insights on how we could make this offer more attractive or any other insights you might have we would welcome your input.
This has already proven to be a really worthwhile departure for the programme and one that we would hope to develop and establish over the coming years.
We look forward to working with you this year.
The response from venues has been amazing. We are adding to it daily. So far the venues that have come on board to support the initiative are:
The Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Project Arts Centre, Dublin
The Dock, Carrick On Shannon, Co. Leitrim
Civic Theatre Tallaght, Dublin
Backstage Theatre, Longford
Axis Ballymun, Dublin
Friars’ Gate Theatre & Arts, Kilmallock, Co.Limerick
The New Theatre, Dublin