Guardian review: In Water I’m Weightless – 4 stars

David Toole and Nick Phillips – In Water I’m Weightless. Photo: Farrows/ National Theatre of Wales

The following is a review by Alfred Hickling, 3rd Augut 2012, reproduced from http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/aug/02/in-water-im-weightless-review

The writer Kaite O’Reilly says that she maintains two careers: “the mainstream playwright and the less visible disability artist.” Recently, that balance has arguably been reversed. Three months ago, Sheffield Crucible and Chol Theatre presented O’Reilly’s LeanerFasterStronger – a provocative meditation on biological engineering that predicted Paralympians may one day overtake their able-bodied rivals.

Now comes this Cultural Olympiad commission for the National Theatre Wales, featuring some of the finest differently abled performers in the country. There’s no plot, narrative or characterisation to speak of, though the point is simple enough to grasp. Despite all the advances made in accessibility and civil rights, disabled people still find themselves ostracised, patronised and feared. “We’re a fire hazard. A drain on your resources,” they state – and they’re angry. Very angry. John E McGrath’s production opens in high-concept mode, with much strobing and strutting to loud music that seems to suggest a catwalk show. Then the five performers (originally six – Mandy Colleran unfortunately had to withdraw through injury) take a turn at the microphone and tell their stories. Often these are sardonically funny: in a section entitled Things I Have Lip-Read, deaf actor Sophie Stone recounts someone saying, “Well, at least the phone bill will be small.” At another point David Toole and Nick Phillips compare notes on typecasting. “I’m always the monster, the serial killer or, worst of all, the plot device,” Toole complains. “I got to play a regular criminal once,” Phillips replies, “but they had to change the line ‘take him down’ because of the stairs.”

The cut-and-paste make up of the monologues can sometimes be frustrating: there is a tendency for significant points to be raised rather than developed. But there are some thrillingly vitriolic passages enhanced by the aggressive physicality of the choreography by Nigel Charnock, whose death from cancer was announced yesterday. Mat Fraser contorts his body through a spasmodic sequence of movements to the Sex Pistols’ Bodies, whose sneering line, “I don’t wanna baby that looks like that” sums up the show’s punk-like ethos. And there’s an arresting instance of table-turning when Stone delivers a long speech in British Sign Language without translation. Suddenly you realise how incomprehensible the world would seem if you lost the ability to hear. I couldn’t understand a word, though the final gesture – a middle finger jabbed aggressively upwards – was enough to give the gist.

  •  At Southbank Centre, London on 31 August and 1 September

2 responses to “Guardian review: In Water I’m Weightless – 4 stars

  1. Really nice review. Looks stunning..

  2. Thanks, Doris. The design (by New York based designer/artist Paul Clay) is fantastic, although a reduced version will be at Southbank later this month – the Purcell Room is so much smaller than the Weston Studio at Wales Millennium Centre, we’ll have to shrink everything down to get it to fit!

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