Tag Archives: Nick Phillips

A rallying cry almost worthy of Shakespeare. In Water I’m Weightless review










In Water I’m Weightless, National Theatre Wales

Five disabled actors give an impressionistic glimpse of themselves

by Tuesday, 31 July 201

Adrian Burley MP would probably call In Water I’m Weightless “leftie multicultural crap”. I’d like to bestow similar praise. In common with Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, director John McGrath’s exploration of issues facing disabled people is a bit of a mess, a bit of a tick-box exercise and thoroughly enjoyable.

The play is a rallying cry for the civil rights of the disabled, and wears its politics somewhat heavily. But despite some meanderings in the middle, by the time we reach writer Kaite O’Reilly’s epic final monologue, a paean to the “gen of the genome”, “the glorious freak[s] of nature” who “broaden the scope of homosapien possibilities”, worthy almost of Shakespeare in its rhythm and intensity, and wonderfully delivered by David Toole (pictured below), there is a feeling that we have been confronted.

But with what? For the most part, the play is a loosely connected series of impressions: sign language, fragments of text, anecdotes, powerful music in a bewildering array of styles. There is little to connect these disparate elements but the fact that all of the five members of the cast have a disability. They are partially-sighted, deaf and dumb, paralysed or somehow physically deformed. Not too long ago, the only type of theatre open to these performers would have been in a freak show. In Water I’m Weightless is not without humour, and there is a moment of comedy when two of the actors discuss their recent roles: “always the monster”, “misunderstood evil genius” or, “worst of all, plot device”.

There is no such danger here, as the five actors are offered a rare opportunity to give us a glimpse of themselves, or at least a version thereof. Against Paul Clay’s simple but effective backdrop of projection screen and giant globules, which act variously as thought bubbles, water droplets and bodily cells, the cast each give a fantastic account of themselves. “Don’t patronise me,” says Karina Jones’ character at one point, and among all the familiar and less familiar things we hear that disabled people have to put up with on a daily basis – there is also a section titled “Things I Have Lipread” – this would seem to be one which grates the most.

Jones (pictured left)also has the pleasure of delivering some of O’Reilly’s best passages, a layered metaphor about “your very being a warzone carried out at molecular level” culminating in the horrific image of “that fleshy Dresden”, which nevertheless the character has learnt to love. Ultimately, In Water I’m Weightless is a celebration of disabled human beings – their bodies, their minds and their souls. And although it oscillates rather wildly between wigging out to the Sex Pistols and Shirley Bassey and reflections on perceiving other human beings in terms boiling down to use of taxpayers’ money like the theatrical equivalent of a loud/quiet/loud Nirvana song, it succeeds far more often than it fails.

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ – background and day one of rehearsals.

Nick Phillips dressing up, first day of rehearsals In Water I’m Weightless. All photos Kaite O’Reilly.

The first day of rehearsals for In Water I’m Weightless, with National Theatre Wales….

Performers Mat Fraser, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Mandy Colleran and Sophie Stone are encouraged by director John McGrath and designer Paul Clay to play dress up….

David Toole.

In Water I’m Weightless is collaged from a large body of work I’ve been developing over several years – The ‘d’ Monologues (‘d’ denoting Deaf and disabled) – initially from a Creative Wales Major Award from Arts Council Wales, and then further developed with the Unlimited Commissions I have been awarded as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Designer Paul Clay makes some adjustments to one of Sophie Stone’s rehearsal costumes.

In Water I’m Weightless came about from my ambition to put Deaf and disabled experience, what I call crip culture, and disability cool centre-stage on a national platform, performed by some of the best Deaf and disabled performers in the UK. I’m immensely fortunate that long-term collaborator John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales, understood what I sought to achieve with this project, and was excited about it, deciding to bring it to fruition.

Warm-up, first day of rehearsals

Today was the first time the company came together since our r&d week in November 2011. It was an opportunity for us to begin recapping and revisiting earlier work, and for designer Paul Clay to explore some basic costume ideas.

I will be documenting the process over the next four weeks on this blog, and writing about a different process in collaborating and making performance than my two previous productions this year.

Hope you want to follow the journey…