Tag Archives: Chol Theatre

imove: extraordinary moves and LeanerFasterStronger

Extraordinary Moves

Performance is ephemeral and it’s aways interesting to see how projects which exist(ed) in the moment are documented and archived.

There’s a lot of this happening now, one year after London 2012 and the Sports and Cultural Olympiad. In an earlier post I gave a link to the gorgeous Unlimited e-book and today Tessa Gordziejko, Strategic and Creative Director of Imove Arts Ltd alerted me to their new website and their documentation of past projects, including my collaboration with Andrew Loretto of Sheffield Theatres, Susan Burns of Chol Theatre, and Dr David James of Sheffield Hallam University:

Shanaz Gulzar: LeanerFasterStronger

Shanaz Gulzar: LeanerFasterStronger

Extraordinary Moves

Artists and sports engineers explored developments in bio-engineering and the ethical questions around body enhancements, movement and what we mean by ability. The results included a touring family theatre piece, debates, exhibitions and culminated in a new play written by Kaite O’Reilly.

In collaboration with: Sheffield Hallam University, Chol Theatre, Sheffield Theatres.

“Kaite O’Reilly’s LeanerFasterStronger had me thinking and talking about sport all the way home… The performances were great and the level of ideas presented was complex and fascinating… this work didn’t disappoint”
– Disability Arts Online

For images from the motion capture lab, interviews with myself and performer Kiruna Stamell, and other archived material about this collaboration across theatre and sports science, please go to:


Olympic Questions: Further responses to LeanerFasterStronger






Kathryn Dimery. Photo by Amanda Crowther

We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?

When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest  in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.

Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.

The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.

The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:

‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’

the poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:

‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’






Ben Addis. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’

playwright Richard Hurford wrote on the Guardian theatre blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/jun/01/stage-reader-reviews-georgie-sinatra?INTCMP=SRCH

For me LeanerFasterStronger was a powerful and refreshing example of theatre which not only has something genuinely important to say, but also cares enough about its subject matter to say it in a direct and uncompromising way.

I’m no sports expert and I know little about biotechnology, but like everyone else I’m currently experiencing what it’s like to live in an Olympics host nation. The play rises above the hype, the hard sell and the emotional aerobics to offer a welcome, provocative perspective on the bigger picture. It’s no easy ride and you have to work hard to keep up, which feels appropriate given the themes of the piece. The text is sophisticated, witty and fierce and keeps on throwing out ideas at a relentless pace. However, it’s always accessible and illuminating and not about trying to beat an audience into submission. Rather it’s about encouraging us to keep on pushing forward to consider what actually lies beyond the finishing line, not just for the sporting life, but also for the human race.

The production sticks to the courage of its convictions by placing the text firmly at the centre, intelligently and subtly supported and enhanced by the other theatrical elements to create an effective unity. The moments when the full on debates are invaded by emotionally charged fragments of athletes’ lives -particularly the exchanges between the brother and sister torn apart by the demands of his all-consuming talent – are startling and disturbing. Throughout there’s a sustained and detailed physical underscoring, which at times bursts into the foreground with explosions of intense physical exertion, suddenly thrusting the close-up spectacle of bodies sweating and muscles straining into the faces of the audience.

The theatrical container of a sports conference and specifically the late night boozy discussions of a clutch of delegates from different sports sectors – importantly none of them are athletes and only the hanger-on boyfriend of one of the women seems to participate in any actual sporting activity – provides a clever vehicle to raise and wrangle over the issues on an informed and expert level. It had all the feel of one of those councils of the gods which regularly crop up in Greek myths in which the immortals bicker, throw tantrums and settle personal scores, while casually deciding the fates of humankind with lofty and chilling disdain. Like those immortals the sports delegates have little connection and less interest in what really happens down on the ground, in the stadia, boxing rings, locker rooms, lives and minds of the athletes whose fates and futures they’re shaping over another bottle of wine.

LeanerFasteStronger treats its audience with respect, while insisting we do our bit too. Theatre can engage us through the stories and the experiences of characters, but there’s also a place for plain-speaking. This is one of those occasions and the approach works for the complexity of the subject matter. Some might be tempted by a more conventional dramatic development of the athletes’ stories, but I appreciated the fact that the play kept leading me back to the debate and kept me focused on the ideas rather than lost in the drama.

I really value theatre which leaves me with something I can use in the real world and this is a seriously useful piece of work. As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger.’








Morven Macbeth. Photo by Amanda Crowther

Many people, including Jane Lloyd Francis, have commented on how they feel the issues in the play will have more relevance after the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

I was honoured when Paralympians Steve Judd and Suzannah Rockett Coughlan attended the performance. They were involved in my research  (see earlier blog: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/leanerfasterstronger-a-week-of-olympians-and-paralympians/).

In an email after the show Suzannah said:

It was such an intense play with almost every possible emotion I have had in relation to my sport.
I must confess I found the scene regarding the end of ones career  particularly poignant, as this is an area the public rarely see or to be honest care about as the next star is ready to replace them. Also the family scene was significant and again an area which is rarely touched upon.






Christopher Simpson. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

Such an honest and engaged response from an elite athlete is humbling as well as gratifying, for through Suzannah’s response I know I have achieved one of my intentions. I sought to tell less familiar stories around sport which revealed the particular stresses of being the national hope for gold.

I will continue reviewing the process, script, production, and response over the coming days and weeks, and give sincere thanks to those who have taken the time and effort to enter this dialogue between spectacle and spectator.

Finally, some thoughts from Julie Armstrong, who reviewed the show for the Sheffield Telegraph:

Sheffield Telegraph, Thursday May 31, 2012  Julia Armstrong

A STRIKING tableau greets the audience as they enter the auditorium, with the four actors striking sporting poses while balancing on stage blocks. This is the shape of things to come as the actors combine fluidity of movement, including rearranging the performance space, with words that move fast through various scenarios. The actors take on different roles to explore issues of what sacrifices elite sportspeople and their loved ones make, at how pure sport really is in our money-driven world and at how technologies could affect sporting achievement and all of our lives.

As part of the city’s contribution to the artistic response to the London 2012 Olympics, Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a beautifully written and timely examination of issues that have far-reaching consequences beyond the sporting arena, perhaps even as to what it will mean to be human in the future. This is a chilling prospect as she says in her programme notes that she has been looking at the future of real elite sport science.

On a more intimate level, the actors Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson perform compellingly as individuals and a team to look at what all this means for the people involved, from the athlete whose sister says his pursuit of his Olympic dream has damaged their whole family to the boxer who constantly pushes mind and body to the limit. A smooth-talking sports promoter hangs around in the background like a vulture assured of a next easy meal, ready to drop a star who is past their best.

Ouch! podcast: Is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

LeanerFasterStronger: is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

From  http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2012/05/leanerfasterstronger

Disabled playwright and author Kaite O’Reilly, who is one of the guests on the next edition of Ouch!’s disability talk show (due online towards the end of May), was approached by Chol Theatre to write a play about sport and the human experience as part of imove, Yorkshire’s cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympics. The resulting play, LeanerFasterStronger, opens at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio theatre today, Wednesday 23 May, and runs through to Saturday 2 June.

For background research, Kaite carried out detailed interviews with scientists and elite sportspeople, and also experimented in motion capture labs – where disabled and non-disabled performers saw their bodies moving as a sequence of animated dots which she says were “freed from the preconceptions that go along with viewing the same body moving in the real world”.

She became very interested in genetic and bio-engineering of humans as a species – even the idea of a ‘cyborg’.

In this guest post for Ouch!, Kaite O’Reilly looks at how this emerging science could influence the possible future of both disabled and non-disabled elite sport – which is also the focus for her play, LeanerFasterStronger.

Will we ever reach the point where impairments are ‘cured’, or ‘fixed’ in vitro? People have asked me about my stance on these developments and, as someone who culturally identifies as a disabled person and a disability artist, I know well how complex and emotive the subject can be. Yet in the context of elite sport – and the fictional world of the play I have written – other avenues open up.

As the strapline for the show goes: How far would you go to be the best? Cheat? Dope? Enhance yourself biologically to be LeanerFasterStronger than your competitors? The reality is that we may fast be approaching a glass ceiling about what humans can ‘naturally’ achieve. Elite sport is big business, and the play asks whether we can expect to continue breaking records and ‘improving’ every year without a little ‘help’?

In the 1980s, women’s athletics went through a golden period when phenomenal records were set. Decades on, those records have not been matched or beaten. The turnaround came with the introduction of dope testing. Since those (cheating?) halcyon days, women’s athletics have apparently slipped down the scale in popularity. In athletics, it seems that spectators want a spectacle, to be inspired and excited. Watching people fail to come anywhere near a world record set thirty years ago just doesn’t cut it.

There is an argument that sport tests what is possible for humans to do – it favours the ‘Übermensch’ – the idealised, ‘perfect’ human being. The commercial side of sport is reliant on new records being broken, showing more thrills and spectacle, to keep the fans involved. Various sports journalists I spoke with while researching the play said that the real excitement and focus in 2012 will be on the Paralympics. Coverage of Oscar Pistorius and his carbon ‘blades’ fills many column inches, and he has become a poster-boy for the future – the next exciting development in sport.

This then offered a perspective to me: what if, in the future, the ‘ideal’ athlete is one who has impairments and who can benefit from the speed of Pistorius, ‘the fastest man in the world on no legs’ as the New York Times described him? Developments in wheelchair racing and cycling have the bone inserting directly into the frame – ‘bone melding with steel’. LeanerFasterStronger asks whether, for a spectacle-seeking audience, the future ultimate sportsperson may in fact be a disabled one.

Press night, workshops, debate.








KOR outside The Crucible Theatre on LeanerFasterStronger press night.

Press nights are a particularly theatrical tradition. It’s when the production officially opens, the critics come, and the company parties like there’s no performance tomorrow, invariably ending up dancing in cages in dodgy nightclubs as the dawn threatens to rise.

I think the party element was originally introduced as a distraction, a way of filling the hours before the early newspapers hit the stands and the company breakfasted with the reviews. Those days have long gone and we have to be more patient. We still await the newspaper reviews and so far I have only seen a favourable critique by Jo Verrent for Disability Arts Online:

” The performances were great and the level of ideas presented was complex and fascinating… Kaite’s work is always rich in language, tone and concept…LeanerFasterStronger presents a fascinating glimpse into a brave new world. It certainly provides plenty of food for thought. So go and get your mind enhanced!”

For the full review go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1748

I was unable to join in the 4am ironic cage dancing in Sheffield’s finest dodgy clubs, as I was teaching a workshop at Sheffield Theatres the next morning. As part of being one of the writers at Sheffield theatres this season, I’m facilitating various events – a play reading later today of an earlier play of mine, Belonging – and a workshop at the Lyceum Theatre tomorrow:

Taking the Dramatic temperature of your Script. Tuesday 29 May 2012. 6-9pm.

A practical checklist for effective and dynamic drama: tension, pace, plot, and emotional engagement. Led by multiple award-winning writer of this season’s LeanerFasterStronger, Kaite O’Reilly.


I’m also part of a debate on new writing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Wednesday 30th May: Is it time to get rid of new writing?


I think it’s fantastic when one of the season’s produced playwrights is also involved in the educational outreach work of a theatre. My Saturday workshop included teachers, students, a young in career playwright, and professional director and performers. It was wonderful to be working together in the rehearsal room of the Crucible, allowing a true meeting of audience and writer, current theatre practitioner and the future generation… It’ something I love doing and feel that theatres don’t do enough. When we parted at the end of the workshop, several of the participants went off to buy their tickets to see the production, later. How often do you have the opportunity to be taught by the playwright whose work you’re seeing that evening? It’s a great initiative, and very typical of Creative Producer Andrew Loretto’s ethos – to open the doors of theatres and allow more access.

LeanerFasterStronger runs at the Crucible studio until the end of this week, with a matinee on Thursday 31st and Saturday 2nd June at 2.15pm and the evening performances at 7.45pm.


LeanerFasterStronger – public dress rehearsal

My ticket for the public dress rehearsal LeanerFasterStronger 23rd May 2012.

I love the fact that Sheffield Theatres have public dress rehearsals – and clearly a loyal audience who supports them! After rehearsing and performing to the small collection of playwright, director, movement advisor, designer, sound designer, crew and stage management, last night we threw open the doors to the general public – and the actors had their first experience of performing together before a full house.

Actor Ben Addis with an avatar boxing self.

There reaches a point where the work is ready to be put before an audience – and a public dress rehearsal is exactly that – a rehearsal. Some might see this as high risk – letting the public in to the essential culmination of a process – but as a company we embraced it. There is so much to be learned from an audience and there are always surprises – laughter in places we didn’t expect -a lack of clarity in areas we previously thought were crystal clear…. The audiences’ reactions guides us in our very last adjustments to the script and how it is presented – and we preapre for the official preview tonight….

Director Andrew Loretto in the centre, giving notes to the full company.


For a short radio interview between BBC Radio Sheffield’s Rony Robinson and Kaite O’Reilly, go to listen again at the following link. The programme ran form 9am. The interview was at 12.30pm:


LeanerFasterStronger: The joys of tech’… 48 hours to opening.

Christopher Simpson in designer  Shanaz Gulzar’s floor projection.

It’s technical rehearsal in Sheffield Crucible Studio for LeanerStrongerFaster… A magical time, when all the individual elements which make a production all start coming together.

The devil in the detail…Movement advisor Lucy Cullingford demonstrates a last minute alteration to actor Morven Macbeth.

This is the very first time all the different strata – the text, the action, the lighting, the video projections, the physical scores, soundscape and musical composition have been layered and brought together. It’s also the first time I have got a sense of what this performance may be – the jigsaw is being pieced together – and it’s an incredibly exciting and gratifying time.

Designer and video artist Shanaz Gulzar in tech’.

Technical rehearsals are notorious… If things go wrong, they can be hellish experiences sapping the energy out of the full company. But if they go right…. The relaxed, smiling image of our designer and video artist, Shanaz Gulzar, tells the full story. The crew work fantastically together, the actors are eager, focussed and full of energy, and the day passes with a surprising amount of pleasure.

The cast and background lights from the crew.

By 10pm when we call it a day, I have a sense of the extraordinary complexity in Andrew Loretto’s production. He has set us off on separate but joined creative paths – me initially writing the script and trying to imagine the world of this immersive theatre experience –  Shanaz making her wonderful video projections – Shane Durrant creating an environmental soundscape and original composition – Gary Longfield painting with lights…. The actors have made their own in-depth explorations, discoveries and interpretations – but one person, Andrew as director, has been holding this all together in his imagination.

Ben Addis and projection.

Tomorrow (it’s past midnight…later today) we complete the tech’ and present the work for the first time in a public dress rehearsal. It will be exhilarating to try it out in front of an audience – and I can’t wait.


A Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre Co-Production

Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June 2012 http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/



Shanaz Gulzar


Gary Longfield

Lighting Designer

Shane Durrant

Composer and Sound Designer



All photographs taken by Kaite O’Reilly in technical rehearsal at Sheffield Theatres. Copyright 22nd May 2012.

Lyn Gardner’s Guardian preview and Pick of the Week for LeanerFasterStronger


Delighted to see the following from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian Guide 19th May:


John Simm in Pinter’s Betrayal (to 9 Jun) in the main house may be getting all the attention, but Kaite O’Reilly’s play in the Crucible Studio feels very much like a play for today. In fact, with the country gearing up for the Olympics, its emphasis on the pursuit of gold and always being the best is particularly pertinent. It examines whether there’s a cost associated with the pursuit of excellence, and what “the best” means in a world of smart drugs, designer babies and genetic modifications. O’Reilly is a writer to cherish who should be more widely known, and this show promises to offer deeper insights around science, enhancement and what it really means to be human.

Crucible Studio, Wed to 2 Jun

Lyn Gardner