Bosworth battlefield – starting work on richard iii redux


Sara in the ‘authentic soldier camp’, prior to the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment 2017.

We have been researching Richard III for some time…. Back in August 2017 collaborators Sara Beer and Paul Whittaker travelled with me to Bosworth for the annual re-enactment of the battle which cost Richard his life. Our favourite place was the ‘authentic soldier camp’, where enthusiasts, dressed in period clothing, camped out for days  in what they claimed to be authentic fifteenth century living conditions. The generosity and bonhomie of the camp undermined the supposed animosity between the ‘sides’, with the participants passionate and informed about social and political history.

A Richard III enthusiast gives a lesson in campfire cooking












Enthusiasts had travelled considerable distances to participate in this annual jamboree. We spent time around the campfire of some students from Bangor University, got cooking tips from a postgraduate from America, and posed in the tent of a party following in Henry’s footsteps from France.

Matt, one of the students from Bangor, let Sara borrow one of his broad swords – just what was needed for a rendering of ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’

Sara Beer at the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth, 19 August 2017

With many thanks to all we spoke with, who greeted us with such generosity, and in particular the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.


new year, new production – richard iii redux

Shakespeare’s Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is a she? What if the “hideous… deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple…” is portrayed by someone funny, female and with the same form of scoliosis?

This is the premise of my forthcoming collaboration with Sara Beer and Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group: richard iii redux OR Sara Beer is/not Richard III will take a long, hard and not completely serious look at this infamous figure, evil personified, and raise questions both about Shakespeare’s hatchet-job on what historically appears to be a good and popular King, and the interpretations of this formidable role from actors ancient and modern.

The posters arrived…waiting to be sent out to the venues for the opening in March 2018











The first two days of development begin tomorrow – and I can’t wait. We have researched the subject fairly comprehensively, read books, seen documentaries about the royal body in the carpark and scrutinised celebrated productions of Shakespeare’s play…  I’ll be documenting the process as it happens, here….






Thoughts on “Dustless Action” by Tony Brown.

Yesterday I posted a blog about poet and life-long t’ai chi practitioner Li-Young Lee, who spoke about “Dustless action”. Having received a few (often puzzled) emails from readers on this phrase, I sought further perspectives from my friend Tony Brown, a writer, artist, musical director and t’ai chi practitioner/instructor. With his permission, I reproduce his thoughts, below:

Dustless action: thoughts:

Well, organisations that offer ‘dustless’ services mean that no trace of them remains after the fact. They come, they do their thing, they disappear without trace, and without fuss.
In t’ai chi, there’s a slightly fanciful thought that you can perform the actions of the Art on a sheet of rice paper without tearing it. Without trace. Without fuss.
In the fighting styles, the same applies. The actions are responsive to need and almost clinical. If actions initiate rather than respond, they create an unnecessary state of affairs that wasn’t there before – a cloud of dust. Fuss just makes everything complicated, so simplicity is the dustless solution.
In the internal aspects of t’ai chi, one aims for smooth connection between the mind, body and breath (mind, body, spirit if you will) in order to produce smooth uninterrupted qi. As soon as the link becomes unbalanced or disconnected, well you’ll have to get the dust buster out.
Why we like dusty actions rather than the opposite:
Creating clouds of dust in our everyday actions is sort of fun. Lots of noise, lots of gesticulation, gossip, changing direction, being wasteful with words and deeds and half-baked ideas. And it can of course be very creative. Out of dustclouds of chaos creative ideas arise.
Dustless action can seem lacking in vigour and unproductive. It’s all seems a bit Zen, too Taoist, too much like meditation and mindfulness to be of much use in everyday transactions.
So balance.
Dust is what remains after a half completed task.
Dust has to be cleared away or thing will get clogged up.
But you can write in it with your finger when the dust has settled.
Tony Brown. Dec 11th 2017

A Dynamism of Opposites: An hour with Li-Young Lee. Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017


Li-Young Lee at Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly



Li-Young Lee is discombobulating.

“So what are we here for?” he asks in the opening moments of a masterclass at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2017. “It isn’t a class or anything, is it?” Thirty heads nod in unison. “But I haven’t prepared anything,” he says, with disorientating frankness. “What’s it on?” From the front row I feed him the title: ‘”Creating the Poetic Mind.” He reflects, nodding. “Good title, but I didn’t write it. Perhaps whoever wrote the title should come and do the class, not me.”

I’m torn between irritation at this apparent disorganisation and disregard of the good souls paying good money to have an insight into ‘the poetic mind’ and a growing suspicion that that’s exactly what’s about to be revealed. “The guy’s either a jerk or a genius” an American voice whispers in the row behind me. My mind is circling on ‘maverick’.

After a few queries from the floor Li-Young Lee is beginning to warm up. He talks about the length of time required to create a poem, quoting one which took eight years from conception to completion. Suspicious of work that comes too easily, he says everything is in preparation for the future work: “I don’t like any of my work. I have a troubled relationship with my work,” he confesses disarmingly. “But there’s a good poem in me… I sense it lurking… I haven’t written it yet, and I don’t know how to reach it.” He shrugs, face and palms open towards the audience. “T’ai chi masters talk of dustless action and that’s what I strive for. Dustless action. Perfection. It is possible,” he nods vigorously, but then stalls, his face falling. “The trend now for popular poems are ones showing lots of dust.” He shakes his head, his disappointment shared by many in the room.

A lifelong t’ai chi practitioner, he believes everyone should practice, as it is “a dynamism of opposites which is at the centre of it all”.

“The ultimate polarities, the ultimate opposites is the definition of t’ai chi,” he says. “So making poetry you have a profound voice and silence – I’m not sure you have the differentials of this in prose. Let me talk about architecture,” he says as the room slides from distrust into a rapt attention. “The medium of architecture is of space. You inhabit space and you inhabit it differently – a bedroom, a shop, a temple – you’re using the same materials but how you inflect the space impacts on how a person inhabits it. Poetry is like this. You’re using the materiality of language in poetry and the opposite is silence.”

As an example, he speaks of a visit to Duke University Cathedral, and how when he was approaching the building he was walking in “vertical infinitude” but wasn’t aware of it until he went inside this gothic cathedral with “space inflected” and saw a little boy lying on his back looking up into the great dome, calling out to his mother ‘I’m falling upwards!’ “We live in vertical infinitude,” he smiles, “yet we forget this until we go into a cathedral and then we remember. Poetry is like this. Poetry is a revelation of reality.”

Born in Indonesia to Chinese political exiles, the family were, as he puts it “fugitives, on the run, changing names and identities” during his early years, finally receiving asylum in the US in 1964. An audience member asks about his childhood, and his acclaimed memoir, The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995), but Lee is reluctant to speak about it.

“I don’t want to remember any of that stuff,” he says. “The Ancient Greeks said the Great Muse is memory, but it is the kind Buddhists remember when they meditate – our original state.” He is warming to this new subject, expanding before our eyes. “I have a self I expose to the public world – a public self. My private self is disclosed to my family and friends, my secret self is disclosed when utterly in private, and my unknown self has a kind of personal memory I can’t account for. There’s an unknown self that is twenty thousand years old. This is what poets need to connect with – that intelligence we find in Emily Dickenson’s poetry – it’s an intelligence that’s older than America – this unknown intelligence which poets need to connect to.”

I can feel others in the room leaning forward into this surprising conversation. “Composite nature is in us,” he says suddenly, “like the number twelve – it’s a version of two, three, four, six. Then there’s a prime number like seven, which is just a version of itself. We’re versions of each other – our friends, mother, and so on – we’re composite – versions of Buddha, our teachers, etcetera – but we’re also prime. There’s a primacy in us. How do we access this primacy? We can only encounter it through the unknown self. You can’t will a poem into being – it isn’t up to you. When you’re in contact with the unknown self, the imagination – well, that’s when you’re really working, really making.”

Chimes from the Clock Tower across the way break into the silent room. Our hour is up. We wander out from the Old Parliament Building into the shrill brilliance of tropical sunshine, past the river-side statue of Raffles, ‘founder’ of modern Singapore, dazed. I sit at Raffle’s landing place and look out onto Boat Quay, light-headed from a masterclass with a poet, mystic, and trickster all rolled into one.

20 Questions… Chng Seok Tin

Artist Chng Seok Tin in her studio

Continuing my occasional series of interviews with creative practitioners…. I’m delighted to introduce artist/sculptor/print-maker/writer and lyricist Chng Seok Tin. A multi-award winning artist who has trained, exhibited and worked all over the world, it was a great pleasure to visit her in her studio in Singapore recently. Seok Tin has been accorded the highest state art award, Singapore’s Cultural Medallion, the 2014 Singapore Women Hall of Fame Award and numerous other accolades for her work across many mediums. Her answers to my 20 Questions follow, with a full biography and links at the end of the post.


What first drew you to becoming an artist?

Fate. I had never thought of becoming an artist. I first went to England to escape the routine life of a secondary school teacher; a temporary measure I had thought. But I managed to stay abroad for 10 years, fascinated with artmaking as it led me from one art school to another in three different countries: UK, France, USA.

What was your big breakthrough?

The support given by a stranger when I was still sighted and an aspiring overseas art student. A contemporary of mine, Tang Da Wu, whose artwork is collected by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (, a student and a stranger then at Birmingham Polytechnic who guided me to apply to St Martins after he spotted my portfolio when I was rejected by Birmingham Polytechnic.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

My most challenging time of my artmaking will be in 1989, when I started afresh after I lost my sight, and went back to teaching and make prints at LASALLE College of Arts with the help of a printmaking major student as my assistant, arranged by the most enlightened President-Founder/sculptor, Brother McNally. If you ask generally – coming up with ideas for art works can be most challenging, or very easy.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

My first visit to the museum/gallery in London where I encounter these greats: Turner, Constable, Rembrandt, Reuben, Velaquez, Goya, Rodin, Picasso, and more.

 What’s more important: form or content?

Content. You can have skilful technical form but it is the unique content which makes great art and speaks up.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When you feel it is finished.

Do you read your reviews?

Before, when I could see, I read reviews and did battles with the reviewers. Now, if no one reads to me, then no.

What advice would you give a young writer/ art practitioner?

You have to know that financial rewards may be sparse, but if you have a passion and want to devote yourself to art, then follow your heart. To me, art and writing (I am also a Chinese language writer of 13 books) is worthy of my lifelong devotion.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Ha ha. Starry Starry Night – mysterious and profound, by Van Gogh. I don’t want to own the artwork because I won’t be able to take care of it, that would be unfair to the precious work.

What’s the biggest myth about making art?

That making art can make big money. It is the marketplace that makes big money for collectors and dealers. The average buyer gets the wrong impression about these crazy prices which I don’t understand either. Intrinsic value of artworks created with technical and asethetic prowess expressing our humanity, our oneness, our love for nature and society are priceless and yet…

What are you working on now?

Now on Number 64 of Crazy Horse art installation. This installation hopefully will be auctioned off to benefit a group of forgotten minority. It was inspired by my visit to the struggling Crazy Horse Memorial in USA which immortalises Native Indian Chief Crazy Horse. He died fighting the colonists in the time of General Custer. (

 What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

There’s so many. Well, Rodin’s sculptures for art, classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin for writing.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Nothing, a blank slate at the start is best. I like what I do, do as I like, nothing planned ahead, just keep going.

What’s your greatest ambition?

A chance to exhibit at a prestigious museum or have my artwork in there while I am still alive. That will be most affirming.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Sigh. It is common to everyone. Just stop for a while and listen to some inspirational talk or book.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

That they don’t know what I am doing, that it was a waste of my time spent learning art abroad. It was at my first shows upon my return from overseas. This was at a time when Singapore art was focused on socialistic and realistic works, and mine was comparatively conceptual and abstract to a lot of people, so there was hostile reception.

 And the best thing?

After 1989, when I lost my eyesight, when my works became more comprehensible as they were more on social comments and story telling.

 If you were to create a concept or metaphor about the artmaking process, what would it be?

A mage chef to conjure a most delectible dish for all to enjoy, with everything in place: inspiration, perspiration and quality ingredients.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

Try your best, and then follow your fate – a Chinese epigram.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

Not learn but taste its spices: sour, sweet, bitter, spicy. That’s life.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

Pretty much all there. Thank you for your questions and your interest, it means a lot to me.

Links and full biography of Chng Seok Tin:



Wikipedia :

National Library Singapore Resources: Singapore Infopedia

Biography: School Teacher turned art student. Art Education 1971-1985: National Academy of Fine Arts. 10 years overseas: UK – St Martins School of Art, Hull College of Higher Education. Hornsey College of Art. France – Atelier 17, Paris. USA –MA from New Mexico State University and MFA from University of Iowa, majoring in printmaking. 1986-1997 Printmaking/Art lecturer to a generation of art students at major art schools: LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, NAFA, National Institute of Education. 1988 Lost her eyesight after near-death surgeries to remove brain abscess. Continuing to make prints, she has since included sculptures and mixed media works. Her artworks are commentaries on nature and the human condition. Held 31 solo exhibitions, participated in more than 100 group exhibitions in Singapore and overseas including Asia, Australia, China, USA and Europe and UK. In 2005, Seok Tin was accorded the highest state art award: Singapore’s Cultural Medallion, and also became the first Singapore artist to exhibit at the United Nations HQ, New York. Other accolades include: 2001 Woman of the Year award, and the 2014 Singapore Women Hall of Fame award in its inaugural year. Also a Chinese writer and poet, Seok Tin wrote for Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong dailies and magazines. She authored 13 collections of prose, travel writings, satires and art reviews. She was honoured with a Chinese Literature Society award in 2007. She is also a lyricist, who penned the Chinese classic hit made popular by singer Kit Chan, Step out of the Darkness My friend. Seok Tin also designs and organises inclusive art workshops. She makes sound art and touch art that are exhibited in the dark to encourage public awareness of the visually disabiled amongst us.  A lifelong learner, she has just taught herself to play the harmonica. Chng Seok Tin’s works are part of the national collection of Singapore at National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum. Her artworks can be seen at the National Gallery Singapore DBS Gallery 2.


















“It’s like The Vagina Monologues for Deaf and disabled actors.” The Stage interview.

My recent work in Singapore, developing my Unlimited international r&d commission, seemed to catch peoples’ curiosity and interest. What follows is an excerpt from an interview I gave to Joe Turnbull for The Stage. The full feature can be accessed here. 

O’Reilly’s collaborators Ramesh Meyyappan,
above centre, and Peter Sau, right, with Grace Khoo in And Suddenly I Disappear. Photo: Wesley Loh, Memphis Pictures West

Playwright Kaite O’Reilly’s latest groundbreaking production sets out to challenge the way disabled people are perceived in Singapore. Using disabled actors, she was determined to tell the stories of those who are not normally heard in a country where previous generations were locked up and left to die, as she tells Joe Turnbull

Five years ago, disabled playwright Kaite O’Reilly pushed the humble monologue into new creative territory with In Water I’m Weightless, an Unlimited commission for the Cultural Olympiad as part of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The show featured an all deaf and disabled cast. It had no discernible plot and experimented with dramaturgical form, incorporating access elements such as audio description and sign language into the creative material.

Now, O’Reilly’s latest project And Suddenly I Disappear…The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, sees her return to this approach of creating a play out of a series of fictionalised monologues – sometimes delivered chorally – which are inspired by stories about the lived experiences of deaf and disabled people. It’s arguably even more ambitious than its predecessor.

Its development spans nine years, five languages and two continents (three if you include the trip to America that inspired it all). Not only that, it seeks to challenge the way disability theatre is both produced and received in Singapore and smash deep-seated preconceptions about disabled and deaf experience along the way.

“I received a Creative Wales Award in 2008-9, which allowed me an extended period of exploration and development,” recalls O’Reilly. “I spent time in New  York very briefly with Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues and Ping Chong and his Undesirable Elements series. I hung out with a load of disabled people that he’d interviewed who he then got to perform. I began thinking about that as a vehicle for challenging preconceptions and hopefully subverting some of the old narratives that are problematic – that are connected to what I would call the ‘atypical body’ – whether that’s neuro or physically or sensory. I interviewed over 70 deaf and disabled people from the UK and the material it inspired me to write became The ‘d’ Monologues, which provided the text for In Water I’m Weightless.”

O’Reilly’s affinity with Singapore predates even that, having had a relationship with its Intercultural Theatre Institute since 2004, and teaching there for the last six years. It was in 2004 that she met two of the main collaborators for And Suddenly I Disappear. The first is Peter Sau, a graduate of the institute and winner of best actor in the 2015 Singapore Life! Theatre Awards. Sau is associate-directing the project and managing much of the work being carried out in Singapore. The other is Ramesh Meyyappan, a deaf Singaporean visual and physical theatremaker now based in Glasgow, who will be overseeing the physical language elements of the project.

O’Reilly explains how she first met Meyyappan all those years ago: “He had just finished a performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death. People were telling him this weird ‘ang mo’ [Singaporean for white foreigner] is waiting outside and says she won’t leave until she speaks with you. We just about managed to have a conversation, partly through Singaporean Sign Language and me with British Sign Language and sign-supported English. It all got very funny.”

O’Reilly reconnected with Sau in 2015 when he came to UK to do an MA. “We started to hatch the idea of what I would call an international dialogue of difference, diversity and disability and deaf experience from opposite sides of the world,” she says. The piece received an Unlimited International R&D in March 2017 and has been in proper development since.

“Although we hadn’t worked together before, I thought I had to have Ramesh on board as well. I explained to him that he would be the bridge. He knows Singaporean sign language and he understands both Singapore and the UK. Also if we’re going to do this work – and I’ve always done this – I want it to be disability-led and deaf-led. So Ramesh is leading the deaf cultural parts of the project.” Everyone else involved in the project also identifies as disabled or deaf, both culturally and politically. Sau and his team have been collecting testimonies of disabled and deaf people in Singapore, with O’Reilly doing the same in the UK, which have inspired the latter to produce a series of fictionalised monologues – some abstract, some character-driven. The monologues are delivered across multiple languages – English, Mandarin, Welsh, British Sign Language and Singapore Sign Language. O’Reilly is keen to stress it’s not verbatim.

“I’ve always said people’s stories belong to them. As long as something says ‘by Kaite O’Reilly’ it has got to be by Kaite O’Reilly, otherwise it’s theft. I think it’s to do with my Irish cultural heritage – your stories are who you are. Ping Chong got around verbatim by getting the interviewees for Undesirable Elements to perform it themselves. I’m not saying verbatim is necessarily bad practice, there are ways of doing it well. It’s just my personal position.”

But some of the testimonies coming out of Singapore have been deeply concerning to O’Reilly, a lifelong disability rights advocate, whose activism includes lying down in front of buses on Direct Action Network demos.

“The central thing I’ve got so far listening to the interviews from Singapore is how people are completely invisible, hence the title. I’m hearing the most terrifying stories of disabled people being kept in the back rooms, never actually going out. A lot of them in previous generations were left to die at birth. So what we’re doing here is really radical. I’m encouraging them to record the interviews as well so there’s an oral archive. These are voices, experiences, perspectives that have never been paid attention to previously.”

To read the rest of the article, please go to:

With thanks to Joe Turnbull, The Stage and Unlimited

Singapore: talks, festivals, performances, artist meetings and a royal reception in a borrowed dress

Kaite O’Reilly at British Council talk, 17/11/17, Singapore Art Museum


The past month in Singapore has been a phenomenally busy but rich time. I fly back to the UK later today, having completed my teaching of Dramaturgy at ITI – the Intercultural Theatre Institute – and writing workshops for the emerging Deaf and disabled writers and practitioners of Project Tandem. Last night I presented my British Council ‘Knowledge is Great’ talk: Nothing About Us Without Us – What Can Singapore learn from 30 years of the UK’s Disability arts and culture?’ I presented in the Glass Hall of the beautiful Singapore Art Museum and am so grateful to have had this opportunity to speak about my work and the UK’s disability arts scene. Singapore is currently embracing all things to do with disability and diversity – a time full of great potential for reshaping a more inclusive society and arts scene in the future, although there are many questions, particularly regarding the difference between Disability arts – led by disabled artists, informed by the Social Model of disability and often an expression of lived experience in a disabling world, and arts and disability.

Singapore – natural and manmade


It was great to be able to speak about the work I’ve made both within the so-called ‘mainstream’ and with Deaf and disabled collaborators over thirty years, and to share some video and images from productions in the past five years. The response was fantastic, with many questions and comments and right at the end of a lively post-talk discussion, assertions regarding the need for agency and disabled and Deaf leadership opportunities, as opposed to the charity model currently prevalent in Singapore. It was a lively and stimulating event, and I’m thankful for all those who made comments and asked questions. All the organisations and individuals I have met in Singapore have said how dialogue is so important – to discover if there are lessons or shortcuts to be learned for Singapore from the experience in the UK. Every country has its own context and history and will forge its own path forwards to what we all hope will be a more fair and egalitarian future – and if I can assist in this dialogue of difference and diversity, I am more than happy to.

Ramesh Meyyappan, Sara Beer, Peter Sau, Lee Lee Lim and Grace Khoo: R&D ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’


I was so pleased we were able to share earlier this autumn the work in progress of my disability arts and culture collaboration with Singapore: And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. An international r&d commission from Unlimited, it was a good example of disabled and Deaf-led work and the seeding of work by Deaf and disabled artists into the cultural sector – Unlimited’s mission statement.

Natalie Lim, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, Kaite and Danial Bawthan at the High Commission

This month has also been rich in meetings of the unexpected kind, with an invitation to the High Commission with my fellow collaborators for a royal reception. I attended with Nat Lim,  Peter Sau, Danial Bawthan, Lee Lee Lim and Nice the dog, in a borrowed dress, courtesy of Nat (thank you). Formal attire was not included in my suitcase when I packed to come to Singapore and I was certainly not expecting to meet Prince Charles.

The Indomitable Irishry: Singapore Writers festival


I was in Singapore at a great time to indulge my love for workshops, panel discussions and readings, as I coincided with the Singapore Writers’ Festival. Further fortune came with the focus this year being on Ireland, and I was able to meet and hear some of my favourite Irish authors and poets. Notes on these sessions and from some of the talks and workshops I attended will follow at a later date on this blog.

Artist Chng Seok Tin in her studio




A final and most delightful meeting was with artist Chng Seok Tin at her studio. Seok Tin works in an astonishing breadth of mediums, becoming more tactile in her work after she lost her sight many years ago. It was such a pleasure to meet a woman artist so inventive and expressive, who embraces change and learning new techniques and form. I have asked her to participate in my ’20 Questions…’ series and so hope to present more information about her and her work in a future post.

Masjid Sultan, muscat Street, Singapore.

The sun is blazing on this, my last day in Singapore, as I prepare for the chill of the UK and the closing-in nights of winter. I am so thankful to all who hosted me, met me, supported my work, talks and workshops and hope to return in Spring 2018.