Confounding expectations and challenging preconceptions are the avowed aims of In Water I’m Weightless – the latest production from National Theatre Wales. KAREN PRICE of The Western Mail/Wales Online met the writer and director of this provocative new work.
17th July 2012.
Monologues will be delivered in a series of innovative ways when a cast of deaf and disabled performers take to the stage for an Olympic celebration. Karen Price meets the writer and director of the new production.
After receiving a Creative Wales Award in 2008, writer Kaite O’Reilly decided to use the funding to explore monologues. Four years on, her project is coming to fruition in the shape of a major performance produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the Olympic celebrations.
In Water I’m Weightless takes a provocative look at the body and will be staged in Cardiff and London by a cast of six deaf and disabled performers.
Combining movement and live projections, O’Reilly’s poetic, poignant and, at times, humorous texts are inspired by the imagination, experiences and attitudes of disabled people across the UK.
“As a playwright, I’d always written multiple parts and not approached monologues,” says the West Wales-based writer whose theatre credits include The Almond And The Seahorse (Sherman Cymru) and The Persians (National Theatre Wales).
“So after receiving the Creative Wales Award I explored the form of the monologue and was mentored by various experts. I also started writing a large body of work that was specifically for deaf and disabled performers reflecting their experiences.
“I’d been very frustrated at the huge amount of plays that represent disability but they often fall into negative stereotypes. I wanted to present something from a different perspective and I also wanted to ensure the piece was performed by deaf and disabled actors as there are so many fabulous performers out there.”
O’Reilly spoke to John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales about the project she was working on – they had collaborated in the past when she adapted The Persians,based on Aeschylus’ original work, for NTW’s inaugural opening season.
Staged on a military range in the Brecon Beacons, it won acclaim from both audiences and critics – and Kaite went on to win the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her efforts.
So when O’Reilly received a commission for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport, NTW were keen to come on board as producers.
Directed by McGrath, In Water I’m Weightless will be staged at the intimate Weston Studio at the WMC – the first time NTW has worked at the venue – before there are three performances at London’s Southbank Centre.
“It’s great to work with Kaite again on something that’s completely different from The Persians and this touches upon a lot of experiences which are rarely performed on stage,” says McGrath.
“When people think of monologues they often think they will be performed like The Vagina Monologues or a piece of stand up comedy – by people sitting on a stool on the stage. But we wanted to play around with the different ways that monologues can work in the theatre.”
In Water I’m Weightless is a multi-media performance which celebrates the athleticism of the performers through some clever choreography. It also incorporates film and music, including tracks from Dame Shirley Bassey and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The six cast members – Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole – all come from different performance backgrounds and had a say on which monologues should be chosen for the production.
“We wanted six performers who were incredibly different from each other who would bring unique personalities to the stage,” says McGrath. “The piece has got so many moods – it’s funny and very poetic sometimes. It’s not at all what people might imagine when they think about theatre and disability.”
Both O’Reilly and McGrath are keen to show audiences how theatre can break away from stereotypes when it comes to disabled performers.
“There are often so many cliches but this is nothing like that.”
McGrath is collaborating once more with award-winning New York designer and media artist Paul Clay on the set and costume designs.
“The production features some amazing costumes which really work with the simple set.”
The set itself has a big screen backdrop and a series of suspended lights onto which film footage will appear.
With little over a week to go until In Water I’m Weightless is premiered, McGrath admits that the rehearsal process has very much been improvised.
“The monologues haven’t been written in any particular order so we’ve been moving them around. It’s more like constructing a dance show rather than a theatre play when you have a beginning, a middle and an end.”
■ In Water I’m Weightless is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, from July 26 to August 4. There will be a post-show discussion on August 2. The box office number is 029 2063 6464