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Young Critics Reviews

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, views or opinions of TheatreNI.

Review by: Janette Loughlin
Production: Beckett Women
Company: The Poets’ Theatre

“I’m just a sweet…” No, let me stop you there. Those petite luscious lips filling up the screen aren’t reeling off the lyrics to a well-known Rocky Horror song, they are in fact reciting verse from Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’ monologue, the first of four intersecting pieces brought together for Beckett Women: Ceremonies of Departure.

Directed by Bob Scanlan and presented by The Poets’ Theatre, the show made its debut at The MAC on Thursday 2 November.

Watching this play reminds me is why I admire actors on stage – being able to remember lines perfectly, seamlessly, for half an hour at a time, once in English then repeated in their entirety in French by Amanda Gann, it’s the first production of its kind to do this with Beckett’s poetic prose. It begins to feel very Parisian art-house and a little above my head, until the words take on a soothing and entrancing lyrical quality. It’s like being back in GCSE French class, talking about the supermarché and “What? Who? Her?”

The second scene is taken from Beckett’s play, ‘Footfalls’ and follows Sarah Newhouse as May, and Caramel O’Reilly reading from a script as Newhouse paces slowly along a bench. O’Reilly’s shaky voice is reminiscent of Winona Ryder, grey and wrinkled telling the story of Edward Scissorhands to her granddaughter at bedtime.

Their exchange explores themes of identity and family across generations, and marks a change of pace from the frantic monologue delivered in the opening scene. The line: “The motion alone is not enough, I must hear the feet however faint they fall,” feels politically-charged as Newhouse paces across the bench.

Z is a Death-like figure looming throughout every scene, played by Belfast actor Chris Robinson. Cloaked all in black, he fades in and out of the set, leading the characters around the stage and coming to prominence during the third piece, ‘Rockaby’. This time, O’Reilly is sat in a wicker rocking chair, being gently moved back and forth by Z as she fades in and out of consciousness. Her face is filmed and projected in shades of black and white light at the back of the set, filling up the wall like a figure in a classic horror film. The whole scene reeks of death and decay.

Highlighted throughout the play is the strain in relationships within families and friendships. Allusions are felt towards mental illness through the frenetic, bordering on manic way in which Gann delivers the whole first monologue. So too do we feel a tension between the depicted friends and family members, leading lives of obligation to relationships that only death can break apart.

The staging brings together an impressive set up of live performance, filming and sound, to the testament of the visual, lighting and sound designers. The show has a gothic feel and is the perfect remedy for post-Halloween blues.

 

Review by: Beth Rodgers
Production: Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World
Company: Replay Theatre Company

Described as “Part Lord of the Flies, part Animal Farm, part rave…” and enforcing a message “ DON’T QUESTION. DON’T CHALLENGE. DON’T DARE”

This is a post apocalyptic play following two separate sides- two survivors trying not to be switched over to the dark side that is “The Homeplace”; In the darkside, two berated trainee seekers, a Tutor and a new girl who is about to learn the truth. The seekers are trying to collect the left over objects and are obsessed with infection, the place beyond and follow cult like routines and strict rules employed by “The Tutor” who is trying to keep control of these two boys. The new girl, who wants to be a seeker, comes in and creates disturbance and suspicion, there is mystery surrounding the old man and the girl who are clearly scared of being found but most importantly everyone is trying to survive. The plot twists through a story of a man trying to find his daughter and on the other side, they are trying to reveal the mystery surrounding the new female seeker.

This play was one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time! It is written by John McCann and directed by Janice Kernoghan. Ciaran Bagnall smashed the set and lighting design! It was shown in Riddel’s Warehouse, a perfect location to create the intense atmosphere that was needed. The use of the space was excellent and it also pushed the actors to use movement and physicality that upped stakes and enhanced the intensity. It plays with thrill, technology, the absurd and the idea of being without leaders, something that is timed well to what is happening in the world currently.

It started with us being branded as “visitors” and being shown into a room with lit up apparatus. A man, whose job it was to bring us to each scene when location changed, remained in character the whole time even though he is not a cast member. This detail made the experience fully immersive. Eerie music took hold of everyone and the low temperatures all added to this experience.

The acting- oh the acting! Emer McDaid played the role of “Tutor” and she really stood out for me. Her nasty and sarcastic demeanour  as well as her comedic timing, gestures and expressions made an excellent character that captured my attention throughout. McDaid’s outpour of emotion in the second last scene was incredibly powerful. All six cast members were a delight to watch.

The movements were quick and the message was strong. I particularly liked how “Welcome the Beast” was swiftly changed into “Welcome to Belfast”

If only I had been able to see this at the beginning of Belfast International Arts Festival, I would have told everyone to go and see it, which is obviously the reason why it was sold out. I feel very lucky that I got to see this piece of theatre!

 

 

Review by: Janette Loughlin
Production: Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World
Company: Replay Theatre Company

Have I entered The Crystal Maze or am I watching a show in a derelict warehouse?

Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World written by John McCann and directed by Janice Kernoghan had its world premiere in Riddel’s Warehouse as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival 2017. Produced by Replay Theatre Company, the show combines physical theatre with emerging talent and innovative set design.

The sound of the incessant Autumn rain driving down on the high rooftop helps to set the doom and gloom tone for the show ahead. We are accompanied into a waiting room by a host dressed in Ghostbuster-style gear, his mandatory safety speech cleverly woven into a monologue to get the audience to switch off their phones and prepared for the experience that awaits.

The anteroom has a post-apocalyptic feel with planks of wood splintering on the floor, doorways full of scrap and exposed bare brick walls. The gravel on the floor looks like it’s been coated in a post-explosion film of dust. Plastic sheets hang in doorways between rooms, the scenes set apart like quarantine areas. This is the first glimpse into the imagined dystopian world of the show, where electric devices are banned, books are banned and remembering anything about the time before is forbidden. People conform to roles and ranks in this realm that we are carefully led around.

Chris Grant and Daniel Kelly play Seekers – men trained to seek out and destroy any form of banned technology or “infected” material. They swing about the multi-storey scaffolding like a couple of trigger-happy ninja jarheads, with their shaved heads and beige army fatigues.  They have a good dynamic, their rapport maintaining throughout despite the difficulties they face as a unit.

The show is billed as part-Animal Farm, part-Lord of the Flies, and while these allusions are valid, the play also captures the tone and pace found in modern-day dystopian action films like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games. Its comments about gender, reproduction and women’s rights also echo with The Handmaid’s Tale, and forebode a future not so unimaginable.

We’re met with a rebellious young woman named Skye, played by Diona Doherty, who has her own mission in this fractured world. She plays the role with ferocity, yet brings a certain tenderness to the character which makes her all the more relatable.

Likewise, Emer McDaid plays the role of the tutor with tact and skill. She displays all the smugness you’d expect and like to see from someone who is grasping onto what little sense of authority is given to a woman in this male-dominated world.

As it stands from its premiere run, the show does need some editing. Certain scenes could be adapted, but it is an exciting show to watch, and it’s thrilling to feel part of it. While it’s aimed at and resonates with a younger audience, the themes it deals with gives it a mature tone and shows that as a production company, Replay can successfully bring a play to older audiences and the work will still have an impact.

Review by: Claire Rose Canavan
Production: Three’s a Shroud
Company: GBL Productions

First of all, genius name! I wonder what came first…. The name or the play?! I went to see the show on a Saturday night, the audience was packed and their spirits were high (which was weird considering the play was set in various funeral parlours….)

The play tells the story of two undertakers, one Catholic who buries Catholics, and one Protestant who buries Protestants. However in a shock twist they are able to come together for the greater good when, god forbid, a Polish female undertaker starts doing business better than the two put together! The first half of the play set the scene from the offset, the theme was typical for a Northern Irish comedy and was filled with sectarian banter. However this was mixed up with some jokes which were… let’s just say… Certainly not PG! But the audience were loving it!

The cast were great and each fitted perfectly into their roles. The set changes were seamless and the production as a whole ran like clockwork.

It was refreshing to see a Northern Irish play be so Northern Irish in its jokes and dialogue, yet tell a story that’s applicable to anywhere. If you’re looking for a laugh and something to watch with your friends or partner, this is definitely a show for you. It’s crude and it’s rude… but it is an easy and enjoyable watch.

How would I describe the play in one sentence? It is dead funny….