Tag Archives: Mike Pearson

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.
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Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
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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:
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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.
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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!

Reinventing old stories, making the ancient contemporary

Sophie Stone in 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly

Sophie Stone in ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly

How do we take old stories and make them new, and relevant to our time?

We know (or we should know) there is no such thing as ‘original’ – the same plots have been going around for millennia (there’s only seven plots, apparently). I’m pretty sure the average soap opera concerns the same things ancient Greeks sat down to watch thousands of years ago – and I would like to include Chinese historical soaps in this, for they also cover warring dynasties and great battles.

Human beings are endlessly fascinated with other human beings. We gain great pleasure from watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary situations and grow, change, learn new skills, succeed, fail… We root for the underdog, we fair-minded gentle folk secretly love the dastardly ‘baddie’ – we project ourselves onto the protagonist, identifying with her, breathing with her. We have such an appetite for narrative it is extraordinary we never use all the possibilities up… Which brings me to reinvention, and finding perspectives pertinent for our times.

We know that Shakespeare used many received stories, and that the ancient Greek playwrights consistently revisited the same store of deities, symbolic figures, and conflicts. Today, adaptations of existing work are immensely popular. A glance at the mainstream London theatre scene for this week alone throws up reinventions of The 39 StepsThe Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare in Love and Ostermier’s participatory An Enemy of the People. I saw this update of Ibsen at the Schaubühne in Berlin two years ago, filled with cover versions of Bowie’s ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ done with acoustic guitar, live on stage. I don’t feel Ostermier succeeded fully in making the piece contemporary, but it was a bold move, and one that’s proved popular.

So how do we make the old new, with resonance for the times we inhabit? I ask this question often in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in exactly this – reinventing existing texts and stories. My version of Aeschylus’s Persians for Mike Pearson’s 2010 site-specific production on MOD land for National Theatre Wales won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and my latest play, currently touring, is a reworking of the the myth of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

For me, the first stage is obsession. It’s all very well deciding to update an existing work, but if something about that story doesn’t grab you by the ears and pull you face-first into the narrative, don’t even consider starting.

I’ve been obsessed with Blodeuwedd for years, ever since I first moved to Wales and discovered the ancient text. It is fascinating and compelling: the woman of flowers made to be wife to a man cursed by his mother; the woman made to serve, who discovers desire and plots to have her way; the unnatural creature reared in nature red in tooth and claw, transformed into an owl as punishment for her transgressions… I could write many other versions of the story from different perspectives, which is what makes ancient texts so rewarding to work with. In my reworking of this myth in a commission from Kirstie Davis from Forest Forge, I had to settle on one approach, and one which I felt would have resonance to the times we inhabit.

The second stage is to find the angle that reverberates with current events. Without giving the game away too much, for me approaching Woman of Flowers, this involves the rise of all kinds of fundamentalism, and the corresponding belief systems, creation stories and values made through rhetoric and words. In the original, Blodeuwedd is made by Gwydion, the greatest living storyteller, from the flowers of the forest. I wanted to explore the power of language in this retelling, especially as we use visual language (theatricalised sign) as well and spoken and captioned English in the production.

I have also been very concerned with the rise of modern slavery – disturbing stories in the media of intolerable working conditions (the recent SOS written on clothes labels for Primark), and people kept against their will and treated as slave labour (a case most recently on a farm in Wales).

A further stage when remaking is to respect the original, but not to be strait-jacketed by it. As writers, we need to be free to work with the material as we see fit, but not to be directed into a dead-end by details, nor be imaginatively contained. I’ve had to shake off many ‘I really should…’ compulsions, ‘but the original…’ doubts. The aim is to have integrity in the handling of the material and its original elements, and to respect it, but not be dominated by it. We sometimes have to work against the authority of the text in order to find new ways of saying old things.

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1The text Woman of Flowers has been published by Aurora Metro and available at performances as well as here

The Forest Forge Theatre Company production opened in September and continues to tour nationally until November 1st 2014. Full tour details with links here and below.

Woman of Flowers tour

October 2014

Tue 14 19.30 Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BW 01983 822490

Wed 15 20.00 Brixham Theatre, Devon, TQ5 8TA 01803 882717

Sat 18 19.30 West Stafford Village Hall, Dorset, DT2 8AG 01305 261984

Tue 21 19.30 Ibsley Village Hall, Hampshire, BH24 3NL 01425 473065

Thu 23 20:00 Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Poole, BH15 1UG             O844 406 8666 BSL interpreted show

Fri 24 19:30 Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset, DT6 3NR 01308 424204

Sat 25 20:00 Dorchester Arts Centre,Dorset, DT1 1XR 01305 266926

Tue 28 19:30 Mere Lecture Hall,Wiltshire, BA12 6HA O1747 860163

Wed 29 19:30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre,Wales, SY23 3DE 01970 62 32 32

Thu 30 19:30 The Spring, Havant, PO9 1BS 023 9247 2700

November 2014

Sat 1 November 19.30 Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, BH24 1DW 01425 472613

 

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working (2): Ty Newydd

I’m reading a collection of short one act plays by a group of writers I’m mentoring as part of an initiative for Ty Newydd, the Writers’ Centre for Wales. The house, dating from the sixteenth century, is near the Snowdonia National park, set between the hills of Eifionydd and the sea, on a green baise lawn with what estate agents call commanding views over Cardigan Bay. It is astonishing and lovely, a perfect place for inspiration, the last home of Lloyd George.

The former prime minister and one of the architects of the Welfare State died in what is now the centre’s upstairs library. It is easy to imagine him perched high in a bed, bolstered by pillows, looking out onto the devastating view.

I’ve been teaching residential courses at Ty Newydd for around fifteen years and the Centre’s director, Sally Baker, is both resilient and visionary, eager to create new experiences for writers. She has indulged my experiments – playwrights working with visiting directors (Jenny Sealey, John McGrath, Phillip Zarrilli, Mike Pearson) – site-specific work, with a dozen writers taking over the house and grounds, making performances in every unlikely location, and the likely ones, too. She has even indulged our late night carousing and my ghost stories, particularly my insistence that Lloyd George’s spirit can be sensed in the upstairs bathroom, what had been his personal privvy. I mean no disrespect, I’m merely repeating what I’ve been told,  with a few tiny embellishments, which is to be expected at Ty Newydd, where stories take flight.

The great man is not buried in the Llanystumdwy churchyard, but down the lane from the house in the wooded valley of the Afon Dwyfor, under a huge stone. It feels Celtic and pagan and immensely appropriate. There is a hush around his memorial, as though the birds themselves have taken a moment to reflect. Whenever I walk down, there is always a writer, pen poised, breathing in the dappled air.

The mentoring course is taking place over a six month period with developmental workshops either end, March and September. The writers then develop and revise their plays between these two points of contact, with dramaturgical feedback from me on their drafts.
When we first met in March, the weekend coincided with Theatre Uncut, an initiative set up by Reclaim Productions, with theatres and groups across the UK responding to the coalition government’s spending cuts through a series of play readings, ‘bringing protest to the stage’. One of the writers on the mentoring course, Sandra Bendelow, brought our attention to the event and shared with us the seven short scripts by Lucy Kirkwood, Dennis Kelly, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Clara Brennan. ‘Why don’t some of us participate in the weekend, and do a reading?’ Sandra suggested. She chose Mark Ravenhill’s script, which explored the dreams of a past generation through the 2010 student protests. Marge and Fred, figures from the past, celebrate the birth of the Welfare State whilst a contemporary character observes the plans for its dismantling.
And so we found ourselves standing around Lloyd George’s grave at dusk, reading him Ravenhill, telling him what was happening to his extraordinary achievement, the audacious dream which had been the envy of the world for so long.

Afterwards, we trailed back in the gloaming, reflective and silent.