Youth Theatre Ireland returned to Dublin Theatre Festival for the 17th iteration of Young Critics.
This year has been like no other, with a Young Critics programme to match. Between June and October, eighteen young people from across Ireland honed their critical skills from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
They have been guided on their journey of critical discovery by our expert facilitators: Alan King in Dublin and theatre critic Dr. Karen Fricker in Toronto.
Over the course of the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Young Critics engaged with several programmed events and presented their critical responses at this special online panel.
Young Criticshave been working with digital tools for criticism for the last number of years and the 2020 panel was an opportunity to showcase this like never before.
This is an edited version of the Young Critics Panel discussion that took place on Sunday, Oct 11th at 4pm.
While our Young Critics have been meeting online over the last month, we’ve been slow to update the blog. Our latest reviews come from Lórcan O’Shea and Harry Eaves.
They had the unenviable task of reviewing a productions from their own home youth theatres. How can they stay impartial, while reviewing their friends and peers? They both cast a clear, objective view of two very different productions.
First up, Lórcan turns their attention to Sophie, Ben and Other Problems, by Kildare Youth Theatre member Conor Burke. It was presented by Binge Theatre.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of viewing a new contemporary play written and performed by Kildare Youth Theatre’s very own Conor Burke. Performed in the Riverbank Theatre in Newbridge, the theatre space itself is a ground level stage floor which faces out to five rows of raised seating. The choice of theatre only made the experience more enjoyable for the audience as it is a very interactive play that gets the audience involved as much as possible without implementing the dreaded audience participation.
This one act play was enjoyable for me from the very start right up until the curtains fell. The play centres itself around the story of Ben and his partner Sophie. The way in which it was preformed felt innovative and fresh and I very much felt like I was being presented with something new and different. The opening scene starts off as a pseudo-documentary style, addressing the audience directly. I personally found this style to be incredibly engaging from an audience perspective. In fact the entire play held my attention for its entire duration, which is a very difficult feat to accomplish.
The play also held key backstory and plot points through various flashback scenes throughout the play. Usually I am not an avid fan of flashbacks in any form of storytelling, however Sophie, Ben and Other Problems utilised flashbacks in a way that I had rarely seen before. Providing humorous and poignant insights into the characters we see on stage whilst occasionally breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience as if the play is a somewhat scripted documentary. The clever utilisation of these dramatic techniques on stage provides the audience with a basis to project themselves onto these already likeable characters. Both Sophie and Ben are fully fleshed out, authentic feeling characters. Both hold traumas in their respective pasts, present and futures but there is solace in the fact that they have each other to help cope. The audience also find comfort in this and the beautiful blend of humour mixed with truly touching moments and excellent performance makes this one of my favourite plays I’ve seen.
Sophie, Ben and Other Problems presents modern audiences with a modern concept and succeeds beautifully. There is the risk that, in an effort to seem relatable to audiences, it could come across as cringey and play up certain tendencies and tropes to attract modern audiences. However the play is a truthful and honest depiction of what its truly like to be young and to be Irish. While it’s a fairly relatable piece for anyone growing up in our current society, there is something special in the fact that it details the experience of young people in Ireland specifically. There is comfort in the added layer of relatability that really contributes to the emotional scenes in the play. This depiction of the Irish experience also contributes largely to the more upbeat and comedic tones of the play, giving the audience an array of inside jokes almost that are unique to those growing up in Ireland right now.
All in all, Sophie, Ben and Other Problems is a highly enjoyable experience and will play with your emotions form start to finish. The way in which the both the actors and writer can manipulate audiences into laughing out loud one minute and feeling the tears flow the next is a great and skilful form of performance and one that is engaging all around throughout the play.
They say that its hard to make audiences feel sad and emotional, and that it is even harder to make an audience laugh. I assure you Sophie, Ben and Other Problems will have you doing both.
Lórcan is a 17-year old aspiring actor, writer and director currently living in Two Mile House, Naas. They are currently in their sixth year of secondary school in Newbridge. They joined Kildare Youth Theatre in late 2017 and have attended the Caliban workshop and weekly and have attended a youth exchange abroad in Logrono, Spain in the summer of 2018. They have performed in two plays, ‘The Seance’ (June Fest 2019) by Anthony Nielson and ‘By The Bog Of Cats’ by Marina Carr. They are currently in rehearsal for Chris Thompson’s ‘Dungeness’ as part of the Connections 2020 Festival. Lorcan also holds a strong passion for writing and is currently working on their first script and intends on directing their work at some point in the future. They have also recently started a podcast with a few fellow members of their youth theatre as a part of Kildare Youth Theatre’s Quarantine Festival, an event aimed at young adults expressing themselves from their homes in the absence of any workshops, creative outlets, etc. Lorcan hopes to meet others who share their passion for writing and drama and hopefully gain better knowledge of how to produce and create many forms of critiques through several forms of media.
Our next Young Critic Harry takes a look at Mr Sands Youth Theatre’s production of The IT by Vivienne Frazmann
At the start of the year I saw the Mr Sands junior youth theatre performing their rendition of The It as part of the National Theatre Connections 2020 festival. This play was superbly written by Vivienne Frazmann with great moments of both seriousness and humour. The play follows the story of Grace, a teenage girl who has a monster growing inside of her due to her stressful life. This play shows a dark insight into the stressful lives of teenagers in today’s world, suffering with problems such as body image, identity, fear of the future and the world around her developing into anxiety. I am glad to see issues such as mental health are being publicized to greater audiences. The director had great use of coral segments for the cast and it really made the lines have an impact. The script was perfect and really suited the group.
The set was very minimalistic; it consisted of around 17 stools. The stools were highly moveable which allowed for quick scene and location changes and really enhanced the feeling of school life. They used every bit of the stage to their advantage so that the audience were not always fixed on one person but were captivated by the whole ensemble.
The use of lighting and visual effects really strengthened the play as a whole. This was most notable during the night time scene were the cast slowly crawled towards the centre character of Grace only being illuminated by their phones. It was a spectacular sequence that created a eerie image representing the effects of anxiety while hinting at the fact that mobile phones are the catalyst for it all. It was a powerful message and the audience grasped the concept. The background projections really worked in favour with the play and easily showed the setting of each scene.
In the main, the costumes were realistic, with all wearing the same school uniforms. However there could have been some variety to represent the adult characters such as teacher, and the parents.
All in all I believe the show was wonderful. I have to highlight the brilliant ensemble performance of the whole group. They worked really well off each other. It was real shame they didn’t get to take it on the road and get the opportunity to build on the great work they already presented on its first time out.
Harry is an active member of the Mr Sands Youth theatre in Bray for 4 years. During his time he has participated in 4 plays and also produced a short film with his youth theatre . He has done many workshop with Mr Sands such as improvisational, Chekhov ,movement, ensemble building and character building work shops. He shows great enthusiasm for drama and the art and is looking forward to seeing and reviewing many shows and meeting other people who share his passion along the way.
I attended the production ‘Cosy’ by Kaite O’Reilly in Firkin Crane in Cork last year. The production was about three generations of women as they tackle the topics of youth, ageing and death. Rose, the grandmother, wishes to die with dignity, and her idea of this is to take her own life in a way that she sees fit. Her three daughters and granddaughter arrive at the family home, where the story picks up. There are discussions of what makes a good death, with some slightly unorthodox methods of coming to a conclusion.
I really liked the grandmother’s character, Rose. At her core, she’s a sad and depressed woman who wants to be free from her ageing, failing body. She has an intense, emotional monologue in the final scene, where she reveals why she badly wants to take her own life.
I didn’t particularly enjoy a scene in which Rose and her Welsh friend attempt to ‘practice’ a method of suicide on Rose’s eldest daughter. I felt that the scene was unrealistic and came out of nowhere. Up until then, Rose didn’t seem like the type of person to so much as pretend to harm one of her own.
One aspect of the production I really enjoyed was the prominence of Rose’s antique chair. It was present in almost all scenes, and during Rose’s final monologue, she sat in the tall, imposing chair which emphasised just how small Rose was in that period of her life. Overall, I think it was a brilliant, if not macabre, production.
Sinéad has been a member of Lightbulb Youth theatre for six years and has been a part of five shows. Since joining, she has participated in several Midsummer Meet Ups, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, and has done various workshops related to this, such as Young Critics workshops. She participated in a script reading as part of an environmental awareness project in the UCC theatre building. Sinéad wants to gain a deeper understanding of the work that goes into making a production, learn to give constructive criticism, and meet new people.
To celebrate the announcement of the 2020 panel of Young Critics, Youth Theatre Ireland presents Young Critics Online for young people aged 16 and over. You can enter by sending a review of a performance you have seen recently or of a performance that you view online.
Youth Theatre Ireland urges young people who would like to try their hand at reviewing to send in a written, video or audio review. Three selected reviews will be published on the Young Critics Blog and one reviewer will get to attend the Young Critics panel at Dublin Theatre Festival in October, plus 2 tickets to a show of the winners choice at the Festival. Full details of how to make a submission can be found here.
Announcing Young Critics Online, Youth Theatre Ireland’s Director, Michelle Carew said, “Given the surge in availability of high-quality online theatre in response to COVID-19, this is a great time to offer a taster of the Young Critics programme to young theatre lovers across the country. We want this to be fun, and would urge young people to be as inventive in their critical responses as they can.”
For tools to help you with your review check out the resources at youngcritics.eu. These resources are designed to support young people in developing their understanding of theatre and their abilities as theatre critics. Developed by the Youth Theatre team and the respected theatre critic Karen Fricker, all content here has been further enhanced through a partnership with Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, with inputs from Scottish practitioners and young people. Both young people and practitioners can interact with a variety of content including video, animations, downloadable workshop plans, review samples and tips from the experts.
Youth Theatre Ireland has delivered a Young Critics Programme for well over a decade to hundreds of young people. Selected reviews will be announced at YouthTheatre.ie and social media channels. Closing date is 30 April at 5pm.