Category Archives: on writing

Publication of Persians – winner of second Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry – launches, workshops, readings.

‘Persians’ in a new version by Kaite O’Reilly, Fair Acre Press. Cover photo of Gerald Tyler, John Rowley and Richard Huw Morgan by Farrows Creative from Mike Pearson’s production for National Theatre Wales.

Almost a decade on from its premiere on Ministry of Defence land in the Welsh Brecon Beacons, and eight years after winning the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, my version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’ is finally published by independent publisher Fair Acre Press…. and I perhaps shouldn’t, but will state, I love everything about it. Yes, I’m biased, but it is a thing of beauty – from the striking cover, using my favourite image from Mike Pearson’s acclaimed National Theatre Wales production, to the texture and quality of the paper. I also loved liaising with editor and designer Nadia Kingsley on every aspect of the book, relishing the thought given to the layout, which had Nadia and I yo-yoing back and forth in discussion, aided and abetted by the brilliant Chris Kinsey.

Chris and Nadia were attentive readers, responding to my revisions as I transferred the verse drama from something to be experienced live and site-specifically, to a text to be read possibly silently and alone. The layout and structure has changed to suit this new manifestation, reverting more to the original dramaturgy, as opposed to the one I devised to fit the promenade aspect of Pearson’s production.

From the Introduction.

Persians by Aeschylus is the oldest extant verse drama in the Western canon. First presented at Athens’ City Dionysia Festival in 472 BCE, it recounts the Persian response to military defeat at the Battle of Salamis in 480BCE.

Aeschylus: poet, philosopher, soldier-playwright, anti-warmonger, humanist. He chose to write about an astonishing, almost miraculous event, a David and Goliath of its day: the spectacular and relatively recent defeat of the marauding Persian Imperial force by the people of Athens. Aeschylus was an Athenian. He could have written a swaggering tale of victory, of the battle-prowess Greeks and their cunning and sacrifice to protect this early, emerging experiment in (a form of) democracy. He could have written a xenophobic pageant of blood-lust and warriors, filled with self-congratulatory jingoism and gloating over the dead. Instead – in my reading at least – he chose to write a powerful anti-war verse drama which painfully depicts the waste and agonies of conflict – what Wilfred Owen, another soldier-poet, called ‘the pity of war’ – written with fire and dignity from the point of view of the defeated.

Reviews and endorsements:

I am hugely grateful to Gillian Clarke, the former Bard of Wales (2008-16) and one of the judges of the Ted Hughes Award, for her enthusiasm towards my reworking of Aeschylus’s “Persians’.  Her words grace the back cover:

“In her version of Europe’s oldest dramatic poem, a requiem to a nation’s dead in a reckless, fruitless war, Kaite O’Reilly chooses the iambic drumbeat of English blank verse, and a long-lined lyricism that befits an epic lament. The language is modern, the word-music timeless, the rhythms ring with echoes of Elizabethan drama. In this powerful translation, the three voices of the Chorus tell the tragic story in a breathless song of mourning that insists on being heard.” Gillian Clarke.

The book is currently out with reviewers, but Liz Jones has already critiqued the verse drama for New Welsh Review:

“Kaite O’Reilly’s powerful, emotionally charged text…. stands squarely on its own as a notable work of poetry…. There is no Henry IV rallying his troops, no deposed king in search of his horse, no heroism on the battlefield. Instead we have something more resonant; a reflective mediation on war’s aftermath; a dramatic study of loss, grief and defeat, voiced by a sorrowful chorus….Under the weight of grief, language itself breaks down into incoherent keening…. A haunting tragedy and a salutary reminder that all empires must eventually end, it is hardly surprising that Persians continues to resonate across the centuries. O’Reilly’s translation, written as it was when American troops were withdrawing from Iraq, anticipates the fall of the empire of our age; that of America (and by association, of Western hegemony). Written and performed during ‘a time of terror’, O’Reilly has overlaid Aeschylus’ timeless tragedy with a distinctively contemporary howl of pain.”

Liz Jones. New Welsh Review.  NWR issue r31. Full review here.

‘Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.

Launch and workshop:

I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
.
Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
.
Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. 
After the workshop:
.
Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.
.
There will be further readings and events celebrating Fair Acre Press’s publication of ‘Persians’. Details will follow. I’m simply ecstatic being able to reveal the cover and some of the details of this, my debut poetry publication, which has taken so many years to reach print. Thanks to my fantastic agents at Blake Friedmann, Gillian Clarke, Chris Kinsey and to Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press. What a beautiful collaboration!

Some thoughts on the short story…..

I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I’m addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what others have written/said about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form. Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, film) and when working in a particular genre, I avoid reading for pleasure in that style. There’s always a fear that unconsciously I’ll absorb or be influenced by what I’m reading, so I mix it up – read creative non-fiction when writing plays, short stories when screenwriting, poetry when digging deep into prose. Influence and inspiration may of course follow, but at least if I’m trying to write short stories, I’m not going to come out sounding like Raymond Carver.

When I’m really flat-out and focused on completing a project, I by-pass it all and read about reading and writing. So in celebration of this literary nerdiness, here are some quotations from Lorrie Moore to William Faulkner about that robust but most delicate of form, the short story:

“Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“One has to imagine, one has to create (exaggerate, lie, fabricate from whole cloth and patch together from remnants), or the thing will not come alive as art… A story is a kind of biopsy of human life. A story is both local, specific, small, and deep, in a kind of penetrating, layered, and revealing way.” Lorrie Moore

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Edgar Allan Poe.

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” David Sedaris

“Short stories do not say this happened and this happened and this happened. They are a microcosm and a magnification rather than a linear progression.” Isobelle Carmody

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.”
William Faulkner

“A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” Lorrie Moore

 

Cosy at Cork Midsummer Festival June 2019

Finally delighted to reveal…..

‘Cosy’ at Cork Midsummer Festival 2019.

The cast of ‘Cosy’. Cork Midsummer Festival 2019

Kaite O’Reilly’s darkly comic play combines an unflinching examination of our attitudes to youth, ageing, and death in an often hilarious and moving encounter between three generations of women.

“It’s like I’ve disappeared. I walk down the road and throw no shadow.”

“That’s what getting older does for you.”

Rose wants an exit plan that is bold and invigorating, but her three warring daughters have other ideas. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Everyone seems to have an opinion: Rose’s daughters, her precocious granddaughter and even the strange Welsh woman taking refuge in the garden.

8.00pm

Firkin Crane, Cork

Book here

Supported by an Arts Council Project Award., CIT Arts Office, UCC Department of Theatre, CIT Cork School of Music, Civic Trust House, Suisha Inclusive Arts, and The Guesthouse. 

KAITE O’REILLY AND PHILLIP ZARRILLI, IN CONVERSATION WITH SEAMUS O’MAHONY
Crawford Art Gallery (lecture theatre)
21 June | 5.30pm

Join playwright Kaite O’Reilly and director Phillip Zarrilli of Gaitkrash Theatre’s Cosy, receiving its Irish premiere as
part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2019, as they discuss our attitudes to end-of-life scenarios with Seamus O’Mahony,
writer of the award-winning book The Way We Die Now. Has our society lost the ability to deal with death? Join the
conversation as the three guests reflect on their work and the last great taboo: dying.

Book here

Singing the Old Bones – a workshop with Kaite O’Reilly 7th September 2019

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
.
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
.
Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. Further details will follow.
.
After the workshop:
Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Aeschylus was a soldier-playwright involved in the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE, when the vastly out-numbered Greeks defeated the might of the marauding Persian Empire. This exploration of the pity of war from the point of the view of the defeated is an extraordinary feat of compassion, and the oldest existing text in the Western theatrical canon. Kaite wrote her new version for Mike Pearson’s site-specific production on Ministry of defence land in the Brecon Beacons for National Theatre Wales’s inaugural year. Revised and reinvented, it won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry and is published by Fairacre Press.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.
.
“In her version of Europe’s oldest dramatic poem, a requiem to a nation’s dead in a reckless, fruitless war, Kaite O’Reilly chooses the iambic drumbeat of English blank verse, and a long-lined lyricism that befits an epic lament. The language is modern, the word-music timeless… In this powerful translation, the three voices of the Chorus tell the tragic story in a breathless song of mourning that insists on being heard….”  Gillian Clarke.
.
——
I will be making a ‘reveal’ of the cover and details of this publication after Easter… have a restful and creative time.

What a week! Award nominations, reviews, publications and research and development….

It’s been quite a week…..

On Monday we learned my Unlimited international commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues has been nominated for Best Ensemble at The Singapore Theatre Awards. This is wonderful news, particularly from a disability perspective and regarding inclusivity. Many of my collaborators from Singapore (such as the fabulous Steph, below) were emerging performers, appearing in this first ever all Deaf and disabled-led project in Singapore, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and produced by Access Path Productions. For the quality of the work to be recognised so quickly and so publicly, is a real triumph, regardless of the actual final ‘results’. Those of us who are ‘veterans’ of the UK’s disability art scene (including Sara Beer – also performing in the ensemble) have been hammering on the doors to be given access and opportunity for DECADES. Things are changing in the UK, as across the world, but it is gratifying that this international collaboration – the first of its kind in Singapore – is included in the nominees for this award. The salty old crip’ cynic in me would say award nominees are usually non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’ to play a disabled character. It’s satisfying that for once Deaf and disabled actors are being nominated for playing a variety of ensemble characters (and not a Tiny Tim in sight).

Stephanie Fam performing in Kaite O’Reilly’s international Unlimited commission ‘And Suddenly I Disappear… the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues. Sophie Stone in background.

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The week proceeded with a terrific review of my forthcoming publication –  Persians – with Fair Acre Press. National Theatre Wales originally commissioned this new version of Aeschylus’s masterpiece – the oldest extant verse drama in the Western theatrical canon – for Mike Pearson’s site-specific performance on MOD land. The verse drama will be released later in the Summer, and I can’t wait to reveal the glorious cover, featuring several of the performers from the original production, in a special blog later this month. Meanwhile for the curious, a thumbnail of the cover is included in Liz Jones’s New Welsh Review critique of the text, reworked as poetry for publication, here.

Most of the week was spent in Cork, in an r&d with Gaitkrash. I’m not allowed to say too much at present, and apologies for being enigmatic…

I returned back to Wales in the early hours of this morning, reading further positive comments about Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of my play peeling, which is currently touring. It’s in Manchester tonight, and other dates in Wales and Oxford over the next few weeks, finishing this leg of the tour on May 4th in Cardiff. Both The Stage and The Guardian gave the production (directed by Elise Davison) sparkling four stars reviews. Details of the tour can be found here.

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

Finally, this morning I woke to a review of my collected monologues The ‘d’ Monologues in Wales Arts Review. Reviewer Tomos Morris and I met last month  over a cup of green tea for an interview for The Cardiff Review, out later this month. I’m delighted Tom’s extensive research has been put to good use in his critique, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, the fire is burning, the bottle of wine uncorked and a few hours of relaxation beckons….

 

The writer as listener

Read-through of ‘Cosy’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Winter 2018, Cork. GaitKrash

The person in a rehearsed reading studiously not looking at either the words on the page or the actor speaking, is invariably the writer. As in the photograph above, we are often unconsciously posed like The Thinker, fist to face, gazing out into the middle distance, apparently in a very different space than anyone else in the room. We don’t need to look at the script because we wrote it and so know it already. We don’t need to look at the performer as this is a reading and so we are listening to the rise and fall of the tempo-rhythm, the musicality of the language,  the dynamic.

I was given this photograph today by director Phillip Zarrilli. It depicts me amongst the cast of the forthcoming GaitKrash production of Cosy for the Cork Midsummer Festival, 2019. Originally taken during the first read-through last November, never before I have seen so clearly the different roles and relationships of collaborators during this particular part of the creative process. Fanciful, perhaps, but here is the writer as listener, attention pinned to the cadences of the script riding the air; here is the writer with her eye fixed on some imaginary screen, ‘seeing’ the potential future production.

I never follow the lines in a script in a read-through. I will balance the open script on my knee, turning the pages as the performers do, so if I suddenly have a query about anything I hear, I can immediately locate it on the page and make a note. I find following the text on the page as the actors read counter-productive. The words and letters are familiar. It’s likely I’ve seen them scores of times, if not more, and a certain distance and freshness comes when my face is angled away from the page and out into the space. I have never reflected on this process before, nor asked if it is the same for other dramatists. I have, however, heard of novelists who say they read their work aloud to check its flow and sense. Dialogue in plays is of course made specifically for the living voice, so perhaps it makes complete sense to put away the words and focus on listening.

“Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” –Jeanette Winterson

I am immensely excited to be returning to Cork this week, flying over with performer Sara Beer and director Phillip Zarrilli for an r&d. Sara is the only member of the cast not based in Cork. She was in the Welsh premiere of Cosy in 2016 and will reprise the same role as outsider Maureen. The other cast members will play three generations of the same family – an all female cast with playing ages from 16 to 76. I will be working on the script with the company, revising it so it is Cork-based.

I suspect there will be a lot of gazing into the distance. And listening.

 

 

peeling reviews and unpeeling process

Taking Flight production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

It’s been a week of peeling and unpeeling…. My play peeling headed off on tour in Taking Flight Theatre Company’s commended production, while performer and maker Gemma Prangle and I started unpeeling the creative process as part of her professional development from Arts Council England.

It was a few days of experiment for Gemma as I set her various writing tasks, working across a wide spectrum of styles including stimulating text to generate movement and physical scores. Phillip Zarrilli gave some vocal exercises and directorial advice as we workshopped Gemma’s starting points. I love this kind of work, where I’m part-dramaturg, part-tutor and part-mentor, and especially when, as in this case, the fruits of the explorations are exciting and filled with promise. I sent Gemma off with a series of further exercises to continue developing her considerable writing skills. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to create next.

During the excitement of exploration in the studio this week, there was also the excited gratification of positive critical responses to Elise Davison’s new production of peeling.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a playwright is the privilege of seeing other imaginations at work on your creative impulses. For Taking Flight’s new manifestation, I updated my script, not the first time I have revised the text. The play was originally written in 2002 for Jenny Sealey and Graeae, remounted in 2003 for Edinburgh and a European tour. I adapted it for BBC Radio 3 in the same year, co-directed by David Hunter and Jenny Sealey. A further production (Kirstie Davis for Forest Forge Theatre company) toured nationally in 2011, and there has been countless rehearsed readings in the US. Although I feel immensely privileged in having such a positive response to what in effect is an old play, I am also saddened that the issues of conflict, women’s autonomy over their own bodies and the problematic representation of difference in our theatres are as relevant as ever. When I set out on writing this play at the start of the new century and millennium, I never thought it would take so long for equality and diversity to reach our stages, if not our societies. The continued and increased interest in this play, particularly for its use of creative access, and the way I embedded audio description and sections of bilingualism (spoken/visual/projected language) into the fabric of the script, is therefore bitter-sweet. However, I congratulate Elise Davison and Beth House of Taking Flight and all the brilliant women whose talent, imagination and determination have brought this “fierce and funny” production to new audiences now.

The Guardian and The Stage reviews follow:

Ruth Curtis in Taking Flight’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Janire Najera

Fierce and funny trio storm the stage in vulva gowns – 4 stars. The Guardian review.

Alfa, Beaty and Coral are three deaf and disabled performers taking part in the chorus of a grandly titled four-hour postmodern epic, The Trojan Women: Then and Now. We watch while they sit and wait for their cues, talking, gossiping and exchanging confidences. Paused in the shadows while the “real actors continue with the real play”, they are defined and limited by the actions and designs of men, who are always offstage, elsewhere.

Elise Davison’s revival of Kaite O’Reilly’s play, originally staged in 2002, is fiercely clever and uncompromising. It packs in far more rhetorical audacity, theatrical richness and complexity of ideas than its 90-minute length would suggest. Often scathingly funny, Peeling is an accessible production that provocatively questions what is being made accessible, for whom and how. Who benefits from including a deaf and disabled ensemble, if the dressing rooms are inaccessible?

Initially appearing in vulva-embroidered ball gowns, designed by Becky Davies and made by Angharad Gamble, the actors Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis and Steph Lacey remain onstage throughout. They are shadowed by Erin Hutching as the stage manager who translates the trio’s spoken dialogue into British Sign Language. The dresses in turn are removed, but the peeling of the title also alludes to other forms of disrobing: of character, theatrical conventions, of the personal and societal expectations of disabled women. Towards its conclusion, one senses that history itself is also unravelling. We are brought to our current historical moment, laden with horrors. The grandiose “then and now” appears to be depressingly apt.

Produced by Taking Flight Theatre, who have been staging accessible productions in Wales for 10 years, Peeling is a show that insists it be viewed on its own terms. The peeling is not for your titillation. It sticks a middle finger up at paternalistic and woolly tick-box exercises in representation and inclusivity. Accessible theatre? Do it properly, it demands. Do it like this.

Bea Webster, Erin Hutching and Stephie Lacey in Taking Flight’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

‘Thought provoking and entertaining’ – 4 stars. The stage review

After 10 years of creating outdoor plays involving D/deaf and physically disabled actors (performing in spaces as unlikely as woodland and castles), Taking Flight Theatre finally goes indoors with this new version of Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, embarking on a national theatre tour.

First performed in 2002 by Graeae, it’s a play within a play. Alfa (Bea Webster), Beaty (Ruth Curtis) and Coral (Steph Lacey) are three actors hovering backstage during a postmodern version of The Trojan Women: Then and Now. Cajoled by an irritable stage manager (Erin Hutching, also BSL-signing), the world-weary trio is convinced they’ve only been employed to tick the ‘disability box’ and to add weight to the equal opportunities monitoring form. They yearn to be an Andromache or Hecuba, each able to recite those character’s soliloquies – all while waiting to deliver their own minimal lines.

O’Reilly is an extraordinarily poetic playwright who specialises in contemporising Greek theatre, so the Trojan Women backdrop here allows her to explore epic themes of war from a feminist standpoint. Yet it’s her more earthy, acerbic wit that hits the notes best in Elise Davison’s confident production. Subjects as trivial as celebrity gossip vie with deeply poignant questions about choice for disabled women, around their own bodies and children.

It’s challenging, but also entertaining. The action is BSL-signed and audio-described throughout, all as a natural part of the onstage action, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the strong cast to send up theatre’s right-on but sometimes cursory attitude towards D/deaf and disabled talent.

                                                                          *

I’m going on tour with the company on two dates this month, with a post-show discussion at Theatr Clwyd on 19th March and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 26th March, where I believe David Rabey will be chairing the Q&A. The production will continue to tour Wales, Manchester and Oxford this Spring, with a tour of England planned for the autumn. Further details from Taking Flight.