Some Words on Elles Vivent at Dublin Theatre Festival

By Dearbhla McCormick

The play ‘Elles Vivent’ (EV) is a remarkably funny and frank production that examines our modern norms by heightening them to their inevitable ridiculous conclusion.

For some background information EV was originally conceived by Antoine Defoort and then collaborated on by Lorette Moreau. It was performed by the aforementioned Antoine Defoort as well as, Sofia Teillet, Alexandre Le Nours and Arnaud Boulogne, with The Spirit of the Forest as logomorphic adviser and engineering of the Fliflifli Reform by Kevin Matagne. Oh, and if list wasn’t setting off any senses, it’s entirely in French.

The story goes as such; in the future, an indeterminate amount of time (+2 years) away, two friends, Michel and Taylor, meet in a forest to discuss their lives over the past years. Michel has spent two years in a deep mindfulness isolation and so has plenty of questions regarding the current state of the world to ask his good friend.

One of the most pressing themes present within EV is the relationships that we have with our ideas, modalities and societal norms. From the absurdity of our modern customs to the almost autonomous life and strength we give to ideas simply by thinking of them. EV treats ideas and concepts as living things that are hard to kill and will naturally defend themselves. Such as, the concept of fear. EV describes the idea of fear as something you push away behind a fridge or at the back of a cupboard, but, in the effort you take to try and forget this fear, to kill it, this idea, it grows in strength, out of sight but looming, breathing down your neck. In answer to this EV suggest (by means of musical prose no less) that by acknowledging all of our ideas equally, ‘by giving them a seat at the table’, and acknowledging the fact that we ‘Are super scared’, it removes the threat they pose, giving them nothing but a passive influence on our lives.

But let’s hang on that musical prose part for a sec’ because it gives me an excellent segue into one of the best parts of this play, that being; the funny. Hands down EV contains a fantastic sense of comedy throughout, often pairing it with serious thoughts and concepts to create a paradoxical situation in which you both believe completely in what they are proposing while simultaneously laughing your head off at it, or as they more deftly describe it, ‘Holding two opposing truths at once’. Such as ‘The Stick Prayer’, a mindfulness activity proposed in universe that despite lucridity of it, works. And it is this mixture of paradox and comedy that I believe keeps audience members open to conversation and discussion of these ideas.

But it’s not just the story that is cause to this brilliant piece of art. Designed by Marie Szersnovicz, EV’s constant backdrop of a beautiful forest scape gives the story an almost timeless sense despite being set in the future. The projecting screen set in the middle of the stage ensures that your eyes are neither carried too far away from the characters nor the subtitles, as well as providing story relevance by setting the scenes in the memories.

The crowning jewel though, what I believe shows that true care and attention has been put into this play is the feature of the nmemoprojector. The simple prop slash plot device in question allows the wearer to view any memory that they may recall. Not only does this provide a quick way to jump between multiple points in the past two years, but what I love is the clarity of the memory has an effect on the viewing. Backgrounds may be blurred or simply just a colour gradient, furniture is reduced to simply geometric shapes, at one point a character’s recollection fades to just the emotion that they felt at this time, so nothing is projected, but the accompanying music swells and fills the theatre, letting the feels wash over you in one of the only languages where fluency is unrequired.

When all is said Elles Vivent is a brilliant think piece that dissects our norms and tackles interesting issues within the self while also managing to be an absolutely hilarious in an ingenious performance.

Dearbhla McCormick is a member of Monaghan Youth Theatre and is a Young Critic for 2022.

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.

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.

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.