Young Critics On The Edge- Panel Discussion – Full Audio


Young Critics On The Edge Panel Discussion Photo Credit: Alan King 

On Thursday July 7th, twelve Young Critics from all across the UK and Ireland met for the final time as part of Young Critics On The Edge.

During this session the Young Critics presented their findings to an audience of Symposium Delegates at BCU Birmingham. Here they discussed their process over the previous four days. They also provided critical responses to the four performances they attended as part of Young Critics On The Edge.

The session was chaired by Anna Galligan from Barnstorm Theatre Company with technical support by Alan King of the National Association for Youth Drama (Ireland)

You can listen to the Full Edited recording of the session here

Or you can listen to the session in smaller sections here
































A big thank you to all the On The Edge Festival staff for all their kindness and goodwill over the five days in Birmingham.


Young Critics On The Edge  is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company,NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) in conjunction with the Symposium strand of theASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016.



Boing! – Reviewed by Jonathan Evans, Young Critic On The Edge

Director Sally Cookson
Choreographers Joêl Daniel and Wilkie Branson
Composer Alex Vann
Set & costume designer Katie Sykes
Lighting designer Tim Streader, re-lights Jo Woodcock
Producer and rehearsal director Jude Merrill

Presented by Travelling Light Theatre Company

Reviewed July 5th 2016

Boing !is a show about how children desperately try to deal with the anticipation on the night before Christmas.

It is set entirely in a boy’s bedroom where two brothers, wait for their stockings to be filled. They want to go to sleep so Santa will come, but excitement keeps them awake.

The performers are significantly older than the boys they’re playing, but that is forgivable because no child is capable of performing to that level of skill and rigour..They have the limited space of the bed and a little floor space to manoeuvre in and they so gracefully roll and jump in very inch they have.

The plot is obvious fluff but the set up is one that nearly everyone can connect with and what takes you through it is a colourful, energetic performance of childhood.

Jonathan Evans participation was made possible through his involvement with Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) 

Young Critics On The Edge  is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company,NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) in conjunction with the Symposium strand of theASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016.

Young Critics On The Edge 2016 – Two Perspectives from Northern Ireland

Niamh Meehan and Tiarnán McCartney were the two Young Critics selected from Northern Ireland to take part in Young Critics On The Edge in Birmingham from July 3rd- 8th.

They were recruited to the project and supported by  Theatre NI , Young at Art and Theatre For Young Audiences Northern Ireland 

Here Niamh reflects on our week together in Birmingham 

Our week in Birmingham was divided into intensive days filled with workshops, performances and sessions with the creative teams behind the performances. The On The Edge Festival was an impressive amalgamation of different people; all of whom had different skills, were searching to develop different things, and were at different stages in their careers. The plethora of people brought together to celebrate, observe and learn from the exhibitions of theatre for young audiences became not only our friends, but mentors and teachers. There was so much to learn from listening to others experiences, and seeing their work. Our daily interactions and observations became an international education. I can’t emphasise enough that the quality of some of the theatre we seen, was nothing short of outstanding. Certain performances were so powerful, they will resonate with me for a long time.

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Niamh Meehan and Tiarnán McCartney Photo Credit: Alan King

My concept of theatre for young audiences has expanded from previously rigid preconceptions, to an understanding of this medium being open, complex and wonderful way to tell stories which serve all ages. In this way the Young Critics programme has been a success as it has been influential on a number of levels; from how I view theatre, to considerations about my future career. I hope to see the Young Critics programme expand as the positive consequences of its investment will benefit reviewers, theatre makers, and theatre goers alike. Reviews provide constructive and positive reinforcement for the artistic decisions creative teams are making, as well as providing shows with a public platform and recognition of their presence. Equally as performances are created to be seen and felt by audiences, the existence of reviews can inspire more people to attend performances.

I feel like everyone has something to say and write – the pivotal point around instigating the writing process lies in gaining confidence and nurturing potential; whether or not someone can avail of the tools and support to provide a reinforcing structure and coherence to someone’s opinions. The Young Critics programme has been the first of its kind I have seen which has focused on developing the critical skills surrounding understanding, and reviewing theatre in a constructive fashion. Being able to communicate, observe, analyse, evaluate and review are not just skills which apply to the writing and reviewing craft; they are the foundational skills which lead to professional, creative and academic progression. The programme has a far-reaching capability to improve people’s existing and untapped potentials, as well as their eligibility for a wide range of future opportunities. Not only this, but it has provided a creative outlet to explore the options we have when delivering our opinions on theatre, and on its social and cultural significance. Lastly, it has not only given myself, but all of the Young Critics the confidence to share our opinions and our love for theatre.

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Niamh Meehan and fellow Young Critic Ellie Woolman. Photo: Alan King

I owe my thanks to all the constituent theatre groups and people who have made the Young Critic programme not only possible, but a success.

Meanwhile  Tiarnán McCartney has this critique of his experiences 

Young Critics: On The Edge A Review

This tale begins upon arrival in Birmingham through the hazy and travel weary perspective of the Northern Irish contingent. A fierce heat reflected off flashy modern architecture foreshadowed what was to be an exciting and highly contrasted week of events, although exposition began quite slowly. It was hours after this initial landing before we saw any real progression in the narrative, however once the characters began to be introduced momentum was quickly built.

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Tiarnán McCartney (L) with fellow Young Critics Connor Gibson and Joe Trickey . Photo Credit: Alan King

A cast of 12 young writers and theatre enthusiasts was a risky decision at best and initial presentation of character was chaotic and lacked any real structure. The sudden barrage of names and nationalities was almost overwhelming at times, though credit to the members of the cast as very soon clear personalities and roles were carved and a very sharp, likeable and witty ensemble began to take shape. A diverse and intelligent bunch; a delightful sequence played out over the backdrop of a quiet Asian restaurant allowed further development of character and chemistry.

A warm prelude gave way to some serious drama as the young critics began their intense work-shopping experiences, guided by the wise Anna and Alan. Serious insight and depth of knowledge was displayed throughout the course of the next few days and emotions were running high as opinions were hotly debated in the sweltering work-shopping chambers. Questions were being asked of the true role of a critic, visceral reactions and at its heart; aesthetic appreciation.

The first show was a delightful, and almost deceiving, introduction to the series of plays that would be observed. A warm and playful piece called ‘Boing!’ that beautifully visualised the struggle for young children on Christmas Eve and how easily plans for sleeping can go astray. The strong fluid choreography and engaging child-like energy left the Young Critics charmed. And so the bar was set high. And a consensus of general dissatisfaction was reached with regard to the later show. However visually colourful and stunning, and with an amiable fellow in the wings providing quirky and rousing accompaniment, some Young Critics were left disappointed at the fact ‘Brush’ did contain much “Brush” at all.

An interesting development to the narrative was the introduction of ‘Marmalade’, at the Repertoire. This set-up allowed relationships and connections to develop on a more personal level and provided ample comic relief. In truth, at times conversation became erratic, dialogue was left lacking any real sense and questions were to be asked of why any of this was included? But this teaches us not to simply ask “Why?” As this is implies there is a definite reason behind it, but rather “What was the thinking behind this?”

Day Four still peering cautiously over The Edge, the Young Critics did to think to expect ‘Het Hamiltoncomplex’: a high-octane and fetishised blast of thirteen year old sexuality from Belgian director Lies Pauwels. As many questions were raised socially and ethically as were eyebrows, though I conclude this is a vital aspect of not just theatre but of any art form. Were the girls too young? Did they know what they were doing? Who was really doing the sexualising? Was it the girls? Was it Pauwels? Was it us?


Tiarnán McCartney (R) alongside fellow Young Critics Tejal Mandalia and Andy McLoughlin at the Old Rep Bermingham for The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective Photo: Alan King

All these questions were still milling about the heads of the Young Critics when the time came for the final show which was full of music, innovation and creativity. The Broken Beat Collective left spirits high that evening and Wales got stuffed by Portugal, so discussion was left for the following morning when a debate about culture left tensions running high. It was satisfying to watch how each personality had become gradually more comfortable and confident enough to push each other’s and their opinions.

The climax of this 5 day plot was a presentation slash panel discussion in which the Young Critics gave an impassioned performance and delivered delicate analysis and observations from the week past. This was met with standing ovation. The message I felt was important; that there is no good and there is no bad. No artist sets out to create bad work. A sudden twist revealed to everyone’s shock and horror that Korean theatre company Theatre Haddangse, creators of ‘Brush’ had in fact lost half their equipment in travelling to the UK. “Oh, how harsh we had been!” said the Young Critics “How guilty do we now feel!”


Our Young Critics look decidedly On The Edge at BCU prior to their presentation. Photo: Alan King

Friday morning’s performance, in my opinion, lacked lustre and passion as the exhausted ensemble said goodbye in the place they had first met. Hugs were hugged, tears were shed and doors were left swinging open for a sequel or two.

Young Critics 2: In The Middle. Coming this Fall.

Young Critics On The Edge  is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company,NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) in conjunction with the Symposium strand of theASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016.

Niamh Meehan and Tiarnán McCartney  participation at Young Critics On The Edge was supported by  Theatre NI , Young at Art and Theatre For Young Audiences Northern Ireland 

Boing! & The Hamilton Complex -Two Reviews by Young Critic On The Edge Niamh Meehan


The Mac Birmingham 


Travelling Light present us with a tale touched by the magic of Christmas Eve, as brothers Joel and Wilkie battle to sleep in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Boing is simplistic in concept and effectively minimalistic in design ensuring our focus is consistently immersed in the antics of the two brothers as they grapple with their bursts of energy. The spectacle of this multifaceted show is mesmerising and elevated by the meticulous and beautiful execution of movement and dance sequences on stage. This effervescent story narrates a universal experience and is littered with tender moments, which will resonate with warmth in children and adults alike. Boing is a dazzling, boisterous and inimitable production; an experience to be shared.

The Hamilton Complex


The Hamilton Complex is a beautifully experimental production, which narrates the tumultuous transition of adolescence in an unapologetically uncensored fashion. Thirteen girls on the threshold of their teenage years begin to deal with the death of their childhood selves and the painful birth of their adolescent identities. The girls’ evolution is marked by events which appear sporadic in nature; mimetic of the incoherence and energy the fluctuation of teenage life presents to its bewildered victims. Moments of elation, underpinned by the illusion of self-discovery, are annihilated by the challenging encounters the teenagers grapple with, as they mature. However the girls stake their individuality among their uncertainty ; a form of personal success on its own and a beautiful message in itself. The girls become victors of a change that nature decided for them, and they survive and prevail. The production shamelessly presents to us the good, the bad, and the ugly faces of change through a visually powerful performance, full of movement, colour and questions – the answers of which we decide for ourselves.



Both shows played as part of On The Edge 2016

Niamh Meehan 

Come join Young Critics On The Edge  on July 7th  in the BCU Parkside Building, Lecture Theatre from 5-6.30 to hear the Young Critics critical responses to several productions from On The Edge .

Learn about more Young Critics that are On The Edge here 

Young Critics On The Edge  is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company,NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) in conjunction with the Symposium strand of the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016.


A Critical Response to Brush by Andy McLoughlin, Young Critic On The Edge



Birmingham Mac

On The Edge Festival

Aged 4+

At its beginning, Brush sets itself up as a play for young people which thrives on creating magic from simplicity.

Made by a Korean company, Theatre Haddangse, and starring Korean actors, there exists a language barrier which limits the expressive options of the performers from the spoken word to the visual and audible as they tell their story. At least initially, the show rises to this challenge very well.

The tale of a child venturing into the woods in search of a God who will grant him a baby brother seems to fit the mold of the coming of age story very comfortably. But the simplicity of the play is even more apparent in its more technical aspects.

The set initially consists of a triptych of flats covered in paper on which the actors can paint the setting of each scene.

Using a few simple brush strokes the actors can literally paint a picture of the world they are prevented from describing with words. But the really wondrous moments come when it is revealed that there is more to the set than meets the eye. In moments that almost feel more like magic tricks than theatre, puffs of smoke, soundscapes, silouhettes and puppets are introduced, seemingly from out of thin air. It is this ability to make us expect simplicity and give us spectacle that keeps us on our toes in the plays opening few scenes.

It is excellently scored by a musician who is present onstage throughout the performance.

It is this feeling that we are given at the start of theatre being not just performed, but created in front of our very eyes, that promises to give us the sense of awe we associate with children’s theatre.

At this early point in the play, two things are clear: 1) If this play is going to be memorable, it will be for individual moments of genuine wonder. 2) These theatre makers are capable of showing impressive levels of creativity in executing those moments.

Unfortunately, this play is also an excellent example of the inherent difficulties of relying on these unpredictable flourishes to keep your audience captivated. As the play progresses, we begin to expect to be surprised, and so the performers were forced with the choice of either becoming predictable and boring, or escalating the spectacle and getting further and further away from the simplicity that made the show so watchable to begin with.

One way to get around this problem is to have a strong narrative backbone to structure the play around, but this would prove to be the show’s Achilles’ heel. The tale which lies at the play’s centre has the structure and familiarity of a Western fairytale, but rather than develop or explore the central characters and themes contained in it, the play seems to fall back again on its increasingly extravagant lighting and design tricks, which can only hold the attention of an audience for so long. None of this is to say that you necessarily need a traditional hero’s journey style structure in order for an audience to feel invested. But at the end of the day, the type of story which Theatre Haddangse have decided to tell here is designed to be told in a very traditional way and by surrendering story to style to an increasing degree over the course of the production, something integral to the piece as a whole does seem to have been lost.

If nothing else, an audience member, be they child or adult, who walks out of this production will have seen something genuinely novel to them, and very often that is enough to make a theatre experience worthwhile.

But for all their originality, Haddangse seem to have neglected some of these more basic, tried and tested aspects of storytelling, which are really necessary to keep an audience engaged, especially one aimed at such a young audience.

Brush finished its run at On The Edge on Tuesday July 5th.

Andy McLoughlin

Come join Young Critics On The Edge  on July 7th  in the BCU Parkside Building, Lecture Theatre from 5-6.30 to hear the Young Critics critical responses to several productions from On The Edge .

Learn about more Young Critics that are On The Edge here 

Young Critics On The Edge  is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company,NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Get the Chance (Wales) in conjunction with the Symposium strand of the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016.