Tuesday, 12 July 2016

My Week at Young Critics On The Edge 2016 | LittleEllieMae

I've been extremely fortunate over the past year to have some incredible experiences within theatre. Since deciding that this is indeed my 'life calling', I've thrown myself head-first into every opportunity I can. 

Through my work in the Young Reps groups at Theatre Royal Plymouth, I was forwarded an email about an exciting new opportunity with Young Critics On The Edge programme. I've never seen myself as 'a critic', and I've only just started recognising the fact that I am 'a writer' really but thought it looked fantastic. I applied just before the deadline, using my James II review from my blog on the application. A few weeks later I was notified that I had been successful and would be representing England as Young Critic!

Straight after my long weekend in Cardiff, I traveled straight up to Birmingham to meet the other Young Critics and facilitators. There were twelve Young Critics that took part in the week: two from Scotland, two from Northern Ireland, two from Republic of Ireland, two from Wales, two from Birmingham and two from England! From the very first evening we met, the whole group gelled amazingly well. Its so rare that you meet a group of strangers that just works, but we were so lucky that we got on really well. We all shared an obvious passion and interest for theatre as well as other things (food, crosswords, hula hoops)

Young Critics On The Edge is a collaboration between Barnstorm Theatre Company, NAYD (National Association for Youth Drama) Ireland and Mess Up The Mess, Young Critic’s Wales in conjunction with the Symposium strand of the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering for 2016. It revolves around On The Edge festival which is presented by TYA-UK and TYA-Ireland. It is the ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2016, hosted by Birmingham REP.

The programme was aimed at young people, aged 18-25, who are interested in watching theatre, discovering how and why theatre is made, and learning how to critically discuss, analyse, and review Theatre For Young Audiences. 

Over the week we took part in numerous workshops, led by the amazing Alan King and Anna Galligan, with the aim to improve our critical analysis skills of theatre. 

The week started off with some physical warm- up/ ice- breaker exercises- something that I was initially a little uncomfortable with, as I'm not a performer myself I sometimes find it difficult to put myself out there (especially if the people I'm surrounded with are performers, therefore generally more outgoing than me). However, I very quickly came to the realisation that nobody actually cares if you look stupid or do something wrong. The environment was very open and comfortable to be in so I quickly adopted a 'can-do' attitude and decided it was best to just dive in with all of the activities throughout the week. The whole week was a fantastic experience for me to put myself out there and come out of my shell a bit which was nice, and something I really needed at this time. 

All of the exercises had a great purpose; teaching us listening skills, clear describing skills, objectivity and subjectivity skills, discussion skills. Not only was everything very enjoyable, it felt like we were learning really valuable lessons, which is essentially why we were there. 

Throughout the week we had the chance to watch four shows too. Boing!, Brush, The Hamilton Complex and Broke 'N' Beat Collective. The shows were all theatre for young audiences, which is something I personally don't have much experience of, so it was very exciting to experience. Before all of the shows we discussed the background of them so we went in with a basic foundation of the company, the story and aims etc. After the performances we would have some super in-depth, interesting discussions on what we had watched, following helpful steps of analysis including initial reactions, stand-out moments for the audience, questions, answers, justifications and opinions. We also had the chance to meet some of the makers, including one of the producers of Boing! and the artistic director of The Hamilton Complex which was super interesting and helpful to ask any questions we had, especially about the production process. 

Boing! is a beautiful show aimed at 3+ year olds by Travelling Light Theatre Company and Bristol Old Vic. It follows the simple story of two brothers on the most exciting night of the year, Christmas Eve. Chaos is created with gorgeously choreographed movement/ dance sequences, hilariously witty comedic timing and clever interaction with the audience. I enjoyed this show immensely (possibly even more so than the sea of children in the audience) and would happily watch it again and again. Full of energy and charm. 

Brush is an inventive show aimed at 4+ year olds by Brush Theatre, direct from Korea. Live music, dance, puppets and on-stage painting brings to life an interesting story but loses narrative development throughout I think. I really enjoyed the concept and think it has great potential, but needs some development to become more engaging for younger audiences. 

The Hamilton Complex is a completely innovative show aimed at 13+ year olds, by HETPALEIS and Sontag (Lies Pauwels) from Belgium. This show is intense in every aspect. It conveys physical, visual and philosophical views on the most intense years of a teenage girl's life. It has no set narrative, but portrays snapshots of situations of a thirteen year old girl's life, full of uncertainty, change, fun and individuality. As I said, its completely intense and requires all brain power to soak it all up. I came out of the theatre feeling slightly confused but nevertheless enjoyed it immensely. Its designed to make you think, for sure. 

The Broke 'N' Beat Collective is a thought-provoking, clever and beautiful show aimed at 13+ year olds by 20 Stories High and Theatre- Rites. It incorporates the art of hip-hop, beat-boxing, puppetry, dance, song, spoken word and technology. Its the most relevant and poignant show I've seen in a long time and really hit me hard. The talent on stage in the gig- like format is undoubtedly mind-blowing, utilising several art forms to create really touching stories that will resonate with young audiences nation- wide. As a group of Young Critics, this is the show that got us all really buzzing and we couldn't stop talking about it for days. Absolutely mesmerising. 

We also had the opportunity to present our findings of the week in a seminar on our last day. The auditorium was filled with delegates who came to hear all of us talk in panels about our experience of the week and the shows we watched. Public speaking is always a challenge for me but I'm so glad that I did it!

It was a fantastic experience to see such an array of shows. I was taught how to go into each performance with a critical eye and open mind which is a skill that I will keep forever. I definitely think that all of the work we did over the week has already helped me immensely in terms of my writing. I'm so grateful for the amazing workshops and shows that we had the chance to witness. 

I don't think the week would've been as memorable as it was without this fantastic group of people. We were essentially a bunch of strangers that became amazing friends in just a few days; going for drinks, dancing, staying up until 3am chatting and drinking tea. The group are not just amazingly talented individuals, but fantastic people that will hold a special place in my heart for a very long time. 

On The Edge festival is beyond fantastic. It brings together a wealth of talent from all over the globe, showcasing some really enjoyable and innovative work for young audiences. The week was truly inspiring and I would love to carry on my work with the programme in the future. 

Thank you so much to all involved!

Ellie Mae x

Disclaimer: I was selected to represent England as Young Critic at On The Edge Festival 2016 but all opinions and thoughts are my own. Photos credited to Alan King. 


  1. that sounds like such a great experience!