Setting the Scene: Young Critics have their say

Posted 7 months ago in Arts and Culture, Theatre, Theatre Features

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One of Youth Theatre Ireland’s most popular and innovative programmes, Young Critics, which celebrates 20 years in existence, brings together young people from youth theatres across the country on a journey of critical discovery: learning about how and why theatre is made, seeing incredible shows and voicing their opinions. 

As part of the Theatre Festival they saw three shows: Somewhere Out There You (Nancy Harris & Wayne Jordan, Abbey Theatre), Distillation (Luke Casserly, Goethe-Intitut) and Out of the Blue (Silke Huysmans & Hannes Dereere, Project Arts Centre). The Critics gathered together in the Project on Sunday October 8 to discuss their experiences in the company of Dr Karen Fricker. We have included excerpts from some of their insights into the shows along with two written reviews and some observations drawn from audience questions afterwards.

The Young Critics participants were:

Ruth Cunningham, Roscommon Youth Theatre; Rue Patterson, Limerick Youth Theatre; Joshua Kelly, Fracture Youth Theatre; Co. Tipperary, Ethan Mc Carron, Monaghan Youth Theatre; Maiu Levi Lawlor, Making Waves Youth Theatre, Co. Wicklow; Patrick Earley Mulcahy, Activate Youth Theatre, Co. Cork; Emma Fanning, Act Out Youth Theatre, Co. Meath; Lily Moore, Mr. Sands Youth Theatre, Co. Wicklow; Emma Davis, The Mill Youth Theatre, Co. Dublin; Millie Starr Bourke, Cabinteely Youth Theatre, Co. Dublin; Wiktor Koper, W.A.C.T. Youth Theatre, Co. Wexford; Cathal Ronan, Carlow Youth Theatre; Aoibheann Ni Fhaolain, Mountrath Youth Theatre, Co. Laois; Dean Cahill, Pod Youth Theatre, Co. Cavan.


Joshua (introducing the show): “The show is about Luke who grew up in rural Longford and lived on a bog and never really felt any connection to it but came back years later and had a real grá for it. It was something which was a great part of the community and a living, breathing thing which he gave a voice to.”

Rue (on its sensory aspects): “The most important thing I felt was the sensory experience. We had olfactory senses where we sat around a big table of peat and turf, he passed around coffee for the opening of the show which refreshed our sense of smell and we had a nice memento of perfume at the end to remind us of the bog. He also used tactile senses, we were able to touch the dirt and turf on the table, we passed around moss and smelled it. He had video visuals projected on to his chest and his clothing was made of Irish linen and his brooch had a bog flower which was cool. The whole time we were listening to Luke speak we could hear birds and wings in the background. It was a really incredibly Irish experience.”

Emma Davis (on its sense of community): “Distillation was a communal experience. He asked an audience member to reenact a conversation he had with his father (who worked with Bord Na Mona) so you got to hear another person. His father asked him to look after the land so he was passing on the responsibility to look after the bog. As he was pouring tea he’d mentioned how it was a real focal point for the community. It was about trust and communication within this intimate space.”

Somewhere Out There You

Millie (introducing the show): “The play is a romantic comedy that I assume from the accents is set in South County Dublin. In the opening scene the main character Casey is introduction her new boyfriend Brett from America to her family. Brett is pretty much the perfect boyfriend, the man of every girls’ dreams. He can make a quiche. He gardens. He’s really fit and he writes poetry. He’s almost too good to be true and that’s what Casey’s family thinks. The play goes into the family investigating and what they find.”

Emma Fanning (on themes): “I was really excited when I found out we were going to a rom-com because I love them and they are a source of comfort for me and other people. In the programme notes, Nancy Harris wrote a quote from A Streetcar Named Desire and said, “I don’t want realism. I want magic.” I think that perfectly encompasses a rom-com, but when we got to the Abbey and the programme the first think thing that struck me is that it looked a lot like a Colleen Hoover book which kind of made me a bit curious because while they are romance books, they are not rom coms as she often writes about toxic relationships…it really focused on themes of unconditional love which I thought was really interesting because in traditional rom coms it’s assumed it is love at first sight. There was a huge element of writing your own story which is interesting because in today’s world of AI and VR you could have a relationship without ever meeting someone. You could make up your own relationship. There were also themes of identity and mental health. While it had a happy ending, it definitely wasn’t the one everyone was expecting.”

Patrick (on the role of music): “Before the performance even starts there were two jazz covers which set the tone for the rest of the play. Songs were also performed live which gave you the sense of being at a Broadway musical and it was incredible to see the live element even when you are up in the heavens.”

Cathal (on design): “The saturated colours – bright pinks, reds, yellows and oranges – bring you into the world of the play with a strong visual identity. The massive streamers are distracting and relate to the theme of the play in terms of getting caught up in things…in terms of transitions between scenes, usually in a conventional play it goes dark and everything is moved. Here you see the people move things which is a purposeful intent and a strong decision.”

Out of the Blue

Wiktor (introducing the show): “This was journalistic theatre which had a very factual approach. It followed the story of three ships on a remote patch of ocean. You had the DEME-GSR which was a Belgian drilling company which was scraping the ocean floor to get these valuable rocks which had these precious metals. You had marine biologists studying the effects of this and Greenpeace activists protesting about the emergence of such an environmentally questionable industry…the show had massive screens where all the information and text was presented to us, the interviews with scientists and drilling company. The performers who were also the creators of the show were sitting with their backs to us and on laptops as if they were doing this research and collecting this information in real time. It made this climate crisis awareness more engaging.”

Dean: (on the issues presented around deep sea mining): “Generally when people have conversations around climate change or talk to young people it goes like, ‘Eco systems are dying, these big multinational capitalist companies are ruining it all and we need to fix this problem.’ But this show takes a more neutral stand point. And for me there were three key things: the opinion of the eco system that’s being mined and what will be destroyed; companies – why are we mining the sea bed for precious metals for the likes of car batteries so in order to be more environmentally friendly by using electric cars we need to get these rocks from somewhere and why not the sea bed; and thirdly, which is a view I usually take, why bother? What struck me when they were talking to one scientist who said I don’t know if we can fix it, why try? I think it really resonates when the people who are meant to give you hope are resigned. You have to decipher what you think from all these viewpoints.”

Ethan (on the use of technology): “There were big computer screens with something happening on every one. They had these incredibly organised files and knew exactly where everything was and always playing like music, recorded interviews, videos, pictures and surround sound. It felt like you were watching a documentary live.”

Lily: “It’s not what you might expect but it was presented in a very popular way which wasn’t overwhelming, more like storytelling with visuals and music…it was a chilled vibe.”


  • Willie White, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, asked whether they felt it is legitimate to tell stories such as Out of the Blue or Distillation in a theatre because they are not conventional dramas to which Dean responded: “It goes to back to the question of what is theatre? Peter Brook said, ‘All you need to create theatre is a person on stage a person watching it.’ The purpose of theatre is to tell a story…it is up to us to make our assumptions as to what theatre is. It was a story and it made us feel something.”
  • Questions around cost and accessibility lead to reference to the German Kulturpass which gives 18-year-olds €200 to spend on culture. The Theatre Festival pointed out about their 10 for €10 initiative of certain presentations which is available for under 30s, unwaged, freelance artists and arts workers. The cost of travel is prohibitive and a desire for more local theatre to be more adventurous in its programming was expressed.
  • In terms of journalism and attention spans, the idea of TikTok reviews were broached and also the downside of knowing too much about a show through advance hype or publicity hampering the experience.
  • Experiencing alternative spaces and more polarising shows which the critics saw such as Trojans in Cork Midsummer Festival in the Marina Market threw up the excitement of seeing work in non-conventional places, broadening one’s mind and learning how to sit with points of view that are not one’s own.


Somewhere Out There You reviewed by by Ruth Cunningham, Roscommon County Youth Theatre.

“Is being “delulu” the “solulu”? This is the question posed in the ‘dazzling world premiere’ of Nancy Harris romcom Somewhere Out There You. The key element of this performance was no doubt the high quality acting. We were aware that the cast had formed a strong connection. Their satirical performances remained authentic and believable.

They were framed by a flamboyant yet simple set. There was a mix of inviting long couches, interpretations of famous landmarks and long rainbow streamers acting as wings. It mirrors the unbelievable-believable aspects of this show.

“Is being “delulu” the “solulu”?

Harris subverts the roles we’re supposed to play in life, mocking the fairy-tale “meet-cutes” we all grew up dreaming about. She plays on our belief that our family, peers and the world’s expectations are superior to our own and cannot be changed.

Harris makes a powerful connection between the acting sphere and modern-day relationships. Any actors reading this are aware that most of their lives are spent going through seemingly endless rounds of rejection. You wait for ‘somewhere, out there…you’ the “one” show (or person) that suits you down to the ground. You might work on that project for a week, month, or year. The lucky ones secure a permanent contract. However, you will always have the looming fear that the end is nigh.

Watching this show is an experience I will never forget. There is an important message here for everyone – be your own individual. To quote Nancy Harris, ‘We are all the writers of our love stories’ – conventional or unconventional. This is certainly one to watch out for. 

Runs at the Abbey Theatre until November 4

Distillation reviewed by Maiú Levi Lawlor, Making Waves Youth Theatre, Co.Wicklow.

“A theatrical work that begs for voice, managing to tackle ambiguous and challenging questions about Environmental, Economic and Social subjects whilst remaining homely and relaxed in its tone. Luke Casserly invites the audience on an interactive journey that evokes each sense. The piece allows you to immerse yourself in the routes and soul of rural Ireland. Passing pieces of decayed plant matter, to smell and feel, from audience member to audience member allowing us to heighten our tactile and olfactory awareness.

At first, we are greeted by Luke Casserly himself. We are invited to enter a room, centered lies a round table holding a Bog in its torrid and neglectful state. The table is surrounded by chairs on which the audience stays seated for the piece. An unconventional piece of theatre in its staging (a room that accepts in its minimalism as the shell for this piece, with its house and stage lights remaining on for most of the performance) making it an offbeat, vulnerable viewing. Due to lighting, the audience was visible to each other. You find yourself shifting your gaze from Luke Casserly to observe other people’s expressions, each face painting its own dramaturgy and story.

“You find yourself shifting your gaze from Luke Casserly to observe other people’s expressions, each face painting its own dramaturgy and story.”

The piece is insightful in its portrayal of how we, as a society and as individuals, shape our environment. Luke Casserly holds our attention and poise with each line he draws over, encapsulating and even convincing us that the Bog itself has a voice and what it might sound like, occasionally allowing himself to personify as the Bog delivering dialogue in a dry and nuanced style, finding realism in radical comedic motifs.

A bottle of perfume lies in the Bog in front of us. We are encouraged to open it and spray it on our skin. Luke Casserly worked with perfume artist Joan Woods to curate a unique scent inspired by the Bog. He asked us where the scent took us. We were encouraged to let our imagination take us to the place that we felt we connected to in the scent of the Bog. When applied to each person’s skin the perfume gave rise to a variation of individual fragrances. 

A wonderful piece in its interactivity, making for an engaging and individual experience. Its duration of 50 minutes, with no interval makes for a well-paced piece, avoiding lingering on any point for too long. A clear message, worth hearing/experiencing.”

Run now complete.

Main photo: L- R Back row: Maiú Levi Lawlor, Joshua Kelly, Ethan McCarron, Cathal Ronan, Dean Cahill, Millie Starr Bourke, Rue Patterson, Emma Davis. L- R Front Row: Patrick Earley Mulcahy, Lily Moore, Emma Fanning, Ruth Cunningham, Wiktor Koper.

Words: Michael McDermott

Photos: Killian Broderick

With thanks to Rebecca Feely @ Youth Theatre Ireland.


The Abbey Theatre is proud to support the ‘Setting the Scene’ section of Totally Dublin. This initiative aims to support discourse around theatre practitioners, venues and productions in Irish society.


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