Tag Archives: Adrian Curtin

Adrian Curtin: Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of ‘playing The Maids’

Playing The Maids

In 2014/15 I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Gaitkrash, Theatre P’Yut, the Llanarth Group and independent artists Jing Okorn Kuo and Adrian Curtin on playing ‘The Maids’, a response to Genet’s Modernist play. Our process was fully documented on this blog, and my co-creators have been reflecting on our process since, publishing articles in various journals and on-line platforms. The following is the opening to a fascinating essay by cellist and co-creator Adrian Curtin, with a link to the full text, below.

With thanks to Adrian and Contemporary Theatre Review/Taylor and Francis Online. 

Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of ‘playing The Maids’

by Adrian Curtin

Track 01: Prelude

In 2012 Deutsche Grammophon released an album entitled Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Max Richter, Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, André de Ridder, Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, Daniel Hope. Part of their ‘ReComposed’ series, which includes electronic remixes of classical recordings, this album features a ‘recomposition’ of Vivaldi’s score rather than a remix of a prior recording of the work. Richter explains:

I wanted to make the piece because I loved the Vivaldi. So it was my way of having a conversation with Vivaldi. I decided to rewrite the score on a note level, which meant re-recording it with an orchestra. [That] let me […] get inside it and […] start to work with the alchemy of the material itself, and […] gave me much more scope in terms of what I could do with it. I […] went through [Vivaldi’s score], picking my favourite bits and kind of ‘turning those up’ and making new objects out of those. It was […] like a sculptor having fantastic raw material and just putting it together in a way which kind of pleased me.

he Four Seasons, which has become depressingly familiar through tinny reproductions heard on the telephone, in shopping malls, and on elevators and airplanes, gets a new lease of life courtesy of Richter’s recomposition. Richter abstracts elements from Vivaldi’s concertos (about 25 per cent, in his estimation) and gives them a new spin, looping and collaging fragments, creating new textures, recasting the patterns of baroque music as electronica-inflected post-minimalism. Richter’s version provides an uncanny listening experience. It sounds both familiar and unfamiliar; the composer deliberately subverts expectations in places. The effect is disconcerting, but intriguing – rather like overhearing a delightfully skewed mental rendition of Vivaldi’s iconic work.

Musical recomposition is not new. As Joseph N. Straus observes: ‘[t]he desire to recompose the works of one’s predecessors seems to be almost as old as Western music itself’. Straus argues that twentieth-century composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern were prompted to recompose the work of earlier composers as a result of ‘anxiety of influence’ (Harold Bloom’s famous phrase). ‘In their recompositions’, Straus writes, ‘[these twentieth-century composers] reinterpreted the past in order to avoid being crushed by it. They attempted to neutralize significant or characteristic works of the past by imposing upon them a new, distinctively twentieth-century musical structure’. Richter’s statements about his recomposition of The Four Seasons suggest that he was motivated, not by a struggle for artistic autonomy, but by a desire to enter into dialogue with Vivaldi and create something that would complement this canonical work and allow it to be heard differently.

It is commonplace for playwrights and theatre-makers to adapt existing dramatic material and present it in an altered, updated form. This can involve deliberate subversion of the source material. For instance, Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s score is suggestive of contemporary ‘Regie’ approaches to theatre and opera, as undertaken in continental Europe. Regie ‘plays’ with the text in an often overt, directorially provocative manner. It can lead to the ‘recomposition’ of a text for performance.  To my knowledge, the term ‘recomposing’ has not been used to refer to the creation of new theatre that directly draws on an acknowledged ‘primary’ source (i.e. an existing play). Yet, it is an apt term to use, I suggest, when discussing work that borrows from the dramatic canon but eschews the conventions of dramatic theatre in favour of alternative ‘compositional’ methods. Matthias Rebstock and David Roesner have proposed the term ‘composed theatre’ for work that, in Roesner’s words, ‘[brings] the musical notion of composing to the theatrical aspects of performing and staging’. This aligns with ‘recent developments towards postdramatic forms that de-emphasise text, narrative, and fictional characters, seeking alternative dramaturgies (visual, spatial, temporal, musical), and focusing on the sonic and visual materialities of the stage and the performativity of their material components’. Composed theatre does not simply refer to the use of music in theatre; rather, it is a way of conceptualising theatre made using compositional strategies and techniques that are ‘typical of musical composition’. Recomposed theatre, I propose, may denote theatre that explicitly reworks pre-existing source material from theatre history in a musically compositional manner. The term provides a new way of thinking about adaptation.

An example of recomposed theatre is playing ‘the maids’, a co-created piece made by an international ensemble of seven artists working with Kaite O’Reilly (dramaturg) and Phillip Zarrilli (director) that premiered at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in February 2015. playing ‘the maids’ previewed at the Granary Theatre in Cork, Ireland as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival on 20–21 June 2014. It was performed at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff on 19–21 and 27–28 February 2015, in Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on 26 February 2015, and at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 6 March 2015. A 14-minute promotional video is available here. 

Three theatre companies collaborated on this project: The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash Theatre Company (Republic of Ireland), and Theatre P’yut (South Korea). Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo (from Singapore) and I (also from Ireland) worked with these companies as independent artists (Okorn-Kuo as an actor/devisor, I as a cellist/devisor). As the title suggests, playing ‘the maids’ relates to Jean Genet’s classic drama Les Bonnes (The Maids, 1947). However, it was not a production of that play. This was stated in the programme. There have, of course, been many experimental stagings of Genet’s texts. For an account of key productions of The Maids, see David Bradby and Clare Finburgh, Jean Genet (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012). Rather, it used Genet’s text as creative inspiration, focusing on its character relationships and power dynamics as part of an oblique investigation of modern servitude, wealth-as-privilege, cultural notions of guilt and oppression, phantasms, and the politics of intimacy. It took themes from Genet’s play and recomposed them via a montage of newly written, found, and adapted text (primarily English-language, with some Mandarin, Korean, and Irish), psychophysical scores, choreography, and sound compositions that Mick O’Shea (a sound artist) and I performed onstage. The production featured two sets of maids, one Irish (performed by Bernadette Cronin and Regina Crowley) and one Korean (performed by Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo). Okorn-Kuo played a Chinese ‘madame. I will refer to Okorn-Kuo’s character as ‘madame’ rather than ‘Madame’ to differentiate her from Genet’s creation. The idea of using lower-case spelling for this purpose is Zarrilli’s. Similar to Richter’s recomposed Four Seasons, playing ‘the maids’ appropriated a canonical work for the artists’ own purposes, mining the source-text for raw material, re-contextualising it, and playing it anew.

In this article I will outline how playing ‘the maids’ functioned as a stage composition, and more precisely as recomposed theatre, by analysing its musicality. I will consider the sonic/musical components of playing ‘the maids’ as well as musically inflected aspects such as its dramaturgy and performance style. In this, I follow Roesner’s lead in treating musicality as a ‘perceptive quality that goes beyond the aural sphere’ to attend to ‘musical qualities or relationships of non-auditory events, such as silent movement, gesture, or even colour schemes’. David Roesner, Musicality in Theatre: Music as Model, Method and Metaphor in Theatre-Making(Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), p. 14. Analysing playing ‘the maids’ using this theoretical lens illuminates various aspects of contemporary theatre-making and demonstrates the significance of their inter-operation here. These aspects include the creative re-use of canonical source material, international collaboration, intercultural dramaturgy, musicality as process and paradigm, the continuing relevance of Genet’s work, and the vibrant legacy of theatrical modernism. My analysis of playing ‘the maids’as an example of ‘recomposed theatre’ is not meant to foreclose other ways of conceiving it. I primarily situate the piece in relation to western concepts and cultural traditions because of my background and knowledge specialism. I recognise that the piece might be interpreted outside the context of modernism, for instance. My collaborators Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim have co-authored their own scholarly account of this piece. See Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim, ‘The Actor’s Process of Negotiating Difference and Particularity in Intercultural Theatre Practice’, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7.3 (2016), 417–37. I develop these motifs in the following ‘tracks’.

The rest of Adrian Curtin’s essay can be accessed here.


Staging Mortality: Kaite O’Reilly and Adrian Curtin in Conversation November 18 2016



What can we learn about mortality from contemporary theatre? How can dramatists and theatre-makers help us to understand this quintessential aspect of our humanity? Theatre has an ephemeral quality. It also has the potential to make us uniquely aware of our finite existence. Adrian Curtin, from the University of Exeter, will discuss this topic and enter into conversation with award-winning dramatist Kaite O’Reilly, whose recent play Cosy offers a darkly comic take on ‘making an exit’.

Fri 18 November 2016
18:30 – 20:00 GMT

Clifford Room, Barnfield Theatre
Clifford Road

This free event is part of the 2016 Being Human festival.

‘Stunning..’ 5 Star Review for ‘playing The Maids’


Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, 'playing The Maids'

Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, ‘playing The Maids’

The Public Reviews

Reviewer: Denis Lennon


If you are looking for a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids when you come to Chapter to watch Playing ‘The Maids’ you will find something else entirely, and may not get what you came for. What you will get, however, is a performance that engages and interrogates the notions of servitude within Genet’s world – a world where two sister maids play out fantasies to kill their Madame. For an audience, this production raises far more questions than it attempts to answer. It poses a challenge for the audience to scrutinise the power dynamics present within the 2015 zeitgeist. This is a refreshing break from the patronising didacticism we are all too often privy to in theatre today.
With this intercultural collaboration between the Irish Gaitkrash Company, the Korean Theatre P’yut and Wales based Llanarth Group, something of rare complexity, beauty and conviction has been created under the guidance of director Phillip Zarrilli and dramaturge Kaite O’Reilly.
“You look at me as if I am moving, it’s not me moving, I am being moved.”
The piece situates itself in a metatheatrical limbo: one minute we have one of Genet’s maids in front of us onstage, the next the same actor speaks her own name as stated very clearly in the programme on our laps. These transitions, from one reality to another, are not always obvious, leaving the audience in a constant state of questioning who exactly they are looking at, at any one moment. The way the company play with this ambiguity is inspired and had me (at times, literally) on the edge of my seat and still has me questioning the power dynamics present within the piece and, now, wider society.
All performers, including the musicians, in this production show a seamless cohesion with one another which creates an atmosphere and necessary moments of tension so palpable that the audience on the night held tightly onto any tickles in their throats to the end.
Apart from this wonderful production’s existential qualities, it serves the audience with an aesthetic feast from the belly-butterfly inducing crescendos created by cellist Adrian Curtin and sound artist Mick O’Shea, to the hilariously jarring Chinese night club karaoke of the Madame (Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo).
All this is interwoven by, sometimes subtle, humour throughout, for example when we hear the Irish sisters (Bernadette Cronin & Regina Crowley) threaten each other with a tirade of violent imagery, whilst always remaining sisterly or when the Korean sisters (Jeungsook Yoo & Sunhee Kim) display their fascination with the Madame’s beauty products with a hilarious, but poignant, childishness. These performances are all stunning.
If there is anything amiss in this performance, so much is the level of engagement that I did not notice it. Even the times I started to question any particular choice, such as the use of a distorted microphone to read stage directions, these choices were always justified later –it turns out the distortion of the voice serves a wonderful disembodied quality necessary for the metatheatricality of the piece.
This performance is something that will stay with me for some time and I urge you to see.

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Thurs-Sat 19-21 February and Friday-Saturday 27-28 February, all at 8pm

02920 304400 / www.chapter.org


Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon

Thursday 26 February at 8pm

01874 611622 / www.brycheiniog.co.uk


Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Friday 6 March at 7.30pm

01970 623232 / www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk

In praise of theatre and collaboration

Making theatre can be life affirming, Sometimes when I collaborate with others, I realise how remarkable humans can be. At the great risk of sounding like some evangelising naïf who has just undergone a religious conversion, or taken too much MDMA, I have to say working with Gaitkrash, The Llanarth Group and Theatre P’Yut has been one of the most rich, harmonious and satisfying experiences of my working life.

And this wasn’t just because of the cultural diversity, and the astounding connections we found between Irish and Korean cultures (one of my favourite moments was the interweaving of Irish Sean nos -‘old style’ solo singing mingling with Sal Puri, a dance from the Korean Shamanistic tradition for the release of han); it was the generosity of the individuals involved – performers Regina Crowley, Bernadette Cronin, Jeungsook Yoo, Sunhee Kim, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, cellist Adrian Curtin, sound artist Mick O’Shea and all the interns from Cork, the young practitioners and technicians working with us, notably Josephine Dennehy and Katrina Foley. It was the joy of working with my long-term collaborator director Phillip Zarrilli, the speed and ease of our interactions and dialogue, the swift comprehension and response of our co-creators, the generosity of so many, not least our Fundit supporters, who assisted in making this happen.

In a difficult time, when so much feels compromised and austere, challenging and aggressive, when education is run as a business and integrity has been leached from our economic and financial structures, to collaborate and work generously and with commitment with others, seems, frankly, miraculous. It is good practice. It is communicative. It is political. It is thoughtful. It is communal. It has flow. It is efficient. It is creative. It is building many things – not just an experience for an audience, but team work, communication skills, an understanding of good working dynamic, problem solving, a sense of community and our individual and collective roles in that. It teaches patience, encourages understanding and empathy, creates a forum where difference is explored, ideas are shared, debates are made, connections possibly felt. As drama and art are cut totally from the school curriculum, as the arts are seen even more as a luxury rather than a necessity, as culture as creative endeavour is driven increasingly out of our lives, I am increasingly aware of what we are losing and feel we must resist this at every cost.

Playing the maids…painted flowers and the dramaturgy of a skirt

A day of details, props, painting flowers and the dramaturgy of the skirt…

‘Playing the Maids’ takes as a starting point Jean Genet’s modernist drama ‘The Maids’. We are not doing a production of Genet’s text – it was the source material when starting the collaboration last September.

First edition with Mick O'Shea's sound desk puppet

First edition with Mick O’Shea’s sound desk puppet

Given our interest in the politics of power and intimacy, sibling rivalry, and the European austerity times and the boom in China and South East Asia, ‘The Maids’ was a fascinating source from which to begin exploring relationships and dynamics. As director Phillip Zarrilli put it – ‘who is it that’s smiling now?’

We have two sets of sister maids – Irish and South Korean – and one Chinese-Singaporean Madam, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo. Jing explores notions of privilege and beauty through a morphing figure of the powerful and desirable ‘Madam.’ Her choreographic work is influenced by the representation of the female from sources as broad as favourite courtesan in Beijing opera to the tragic Western ballet ‘Swan Lake.’ This is where what Phillip coined ‘the dramaturgy of the skirt’ arose from – the progression of the changing costume of Madam, especially in the form of a long sarong Jing pleats and folds to create different effects.

We have incorporated new text and found ways of further including cellist Adrian Curin and sound artist Mick O’Shea. They are on stage throughout, creating the soundscape of this world, responding to the action. I find myself watching Adrian and Mick watching our Solanges, Claires and Madam, adjusting the musical score, breathing with the performers.

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Supporting our intense rehearsal period is an efficient and enthusiastic small army of interns – Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton – who I found merrily spray-painting silk flowers red, black, and white outside in this unexpected heatwave. We’re delighted to have them in the rehearsal room, observing part of a process usually taking place behind closed doors. It is a privilege to have the next generation of theatre makers and professionals with us on this journey.



Fundit: Playing the Maids – three days to do it.


Crowdfunding and its ilk is probably the defining word and activity of this particular era. I’ve heard so many arguments for and against of late – euphoric stories of people investing in arts projects they believe in (and getting ‘gifts’ or perks in return), to those who see this kind of funding as being complicit in the privatisation of the arts.

Adrian Curtin and Mick O'Shea

Adrian Curtin and Mick O’Shea

However we may approach it, this practice is now ubiquitous, and part of the process of getting work before an audience… And so here is an appeal from Gaitkrash (Ireland), The Llanarth Group (Wales), Theatre P’Yut (Korea), and Jing Okorn Kuo. We are looking for support to realise Playing the Maids…

As rewards for supporting this campaign, we have tickets to the previews in Cork in June 2014 and the premiere in Cardiff in 2015, original artwork by Mick O’Shea and other surprises and treats. We are trying to raise 2,500 euros over one week (donations can be made in euros and sterling) – we are half way there after three days and have three days remaining – so time is of the essence!

I know these are austerity times and the artistic community are making increasingly ambitious work with less and less money. I know there is barely enough money to go around as it is – and our future challenges will be how to survive. All we can do is continue with hope, optimism and  integrity, making the best work we can. I think this is a special project, but you can see a trailer and details of the campaign at:


Playing the Maids: Inspired by Jean Genet’s classic, playing ‘the maids’ explores the dynamics of power and servitude, wealth-as-privilege, and the politics of intimacy. Two pairs of maids – Irish and Korean, a Chinese Madame, a sound artist, and a cellist weave together a rich web of musical, textual and gestural languages to create a compelling theatrical experience.

‘…a very moving and intense experience… humour, beautiful imagery; a strong and fascinating sound score that forms an integral part of the live performance…’

A collaborative, co-created production featuring an international group of seven performers: two onstage musicians (Mick O’Shea: sound artist; Adrian Curtin: cello) with a Chinese ‘madame’ and two sets of sister-maids—one Irish (Bernie Cronin; Regina Crowley) and one Korean (Jeungsook Yoo; Sunhee Kim). Director: Phillip Zarrilli; Dramaturg: Kaite O’Reilly.


Friday 20 June: 18:00 and 20:00; Saturday 21 June: 13:00; 18:00; 20:00…Tickets: GRANARY THEATRE, MARDYKE, CORK. info@granary.ie 021 490 4275 http://www.corkmidsummer.com/programme/event/playing-the-maids…On-line video trailer: youtube: playing the maids


From February 20-28, 2015…Original development funding by the Arts Council of Wales, 2013.




Diary of a collaboration. Day 5 into 6.

A conversation between Adrian Curtin and Mick O’Shea about music, sound and process on their walk into rehearsals for (Playing) the Maids.