Tag Archives: Nigel Charnock

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues


Ramesh Meyyappan from his website http://www.rameshmeyyappan.com

As announced at the No Boundaries Conference yesterday by Jo Verrent and Tony Heaton, I have been fortunate to be selected as one of the artists for the Unlimited International Commissions for 2017/18. Full details of all of the commissions can be read here.

It feels even more of a privilege than usual to be supported by funders – and not only that, but to make an international collaboration. The award of this commission is bitter-sweet, especially on this day, Wednesday 29th March 2017, when Teresa May triggers Article 50 and turns her back on European unity. If ever there was a time for coming together and connecting across distance and perceived difference, it is now – and I am grateful to Unlimited and all the funders, allies, and supporters for recognising the value of collaboration and international dialogue, and enabling such things to happen.

The blurb:


Lead artist / Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Associate Director, Researcher and Performer: Peter Sau

Producer and Researcher: Grace Khoo

Visual Director and Performer: Ramesh Meyyappan

Disability Advisor and Performer: Sarah Beer

Researcher and Performer: Lim Lee Lee

The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world. Inspired by previously unrecorded disabled experience, fictionalised monologues will be precedented across multiple languages (spoken/projected/visual), incorporating aesthetics of access. This performance will set an important precedent: the first multilingual, intercultural, disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore.

Award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, and internationally respected director/actor-trainer Phillip Zarrilli will lead the team, joined by veteran disability arts practitioner Sara Beer and Deaf UK-based Singapore-born Ramesh Meyyappan with his innovative visual performance skills. Together with Singaporeans Lee-Lee Lim, Grace Khoo and principle collaborator, Peter Sau, the performance will open up a much-needed discourse of disability in quality, accessible disability-led work, never experienced before in a home-grown Singaporean project.
The background:
I first met Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau in Singapore in the same year, 2004, but in different productions. Peter was performing in a production directed by Phillip Zarrilli at The Esplanade, the graduating production for ITI (Intercultural Theatre Institute, formerly TTRP). There, Peter had the extraordinary privilege to be tutored by T. Sasitharan and the father of Singapore theatre, the visionary Kuo Pao Kun.
Ramesh was presenting his visual theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’  Contact was firmly established with both independent artists, based on my conviction I would collaborate with them at some time in the future.
Following Ramesh’s work and occasionally participating in his workshops became easy when he relocated to Scotland, where he has been a leading light in physical/visual theatre.  Teaching Dramaturgy at the Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore has enabled me to keep in touch with Peter over the years, and he came to train with Phillip Zarrilli and I at the 2015 Summer Intensive in Wales, where the seed which became The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues was planted.
Peter is passionate about ‘theatre with a conscience’ and with his collaborators producer Grace Khoo, and mentee/performer Lee Lee Lim, they are determined to professionalise disability arts in Singapore and open up a much-needed discourse on diversity, disability and difference.
The ‘d’ monologues:

My notion of a portable, flexible, diverse body of work informed by a Deaf and disability perspective and the Social model was initiated in 2008, when Arts Council Wales granted me a Creative Wales to explore the form of the monologue. I am not a fan of verbatim, so had many conversations with disabled and Deaf individuals all over the UK to try and get a sense of lived experience in a disabling world, the political and the personal, spiced by what I call crip’ humour. These encounters inspired a series of monologues I wrote in a variety of styles. These solo texts became the basis of an Unlimited commission, culminating in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ with National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and the Southbank Centre.

Cast of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ by O’Reilly, National Theatre Wales/Southbank Centre 2012, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Cover image of ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. Photo: Farrows/Creative

The creative process, directed by John E McGrath with assistant director Sara Beer, choreographed by the late great Nigel Charnock, designed by Paul Clay and featuring six of the leading Deaf and disabled performers in the UK, is fully documented elsewhere on this blog (search In Water I’m Weightless, 2012). The montaged texts from this collaboration are published in my collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’, published by Oberon last year.

This model seemed perfect for a collaboration with Peter and colleagues in Singapore. He, Grace, and Lee Lee would initiate a series of interviews with disabled Singaporeans – lived experience never before documented or shared – and these would create the inspiration for fictional monologues I would write, and the basis of an oral archive. Peter would begin a series of skills-based workshops in Singapore with emerging Deaf and disabled performers, and Ramesh would develop visual theatre sequences.  Phillip Zarrilli would direct emerging work, joined by performer Sara Beer from the UK, with Lee Lee, Peter and Ramesh also performing. It is this r&d stage Unlimited have funded, with the ambition of a full production in Singapore and the UK in 2018.

Style and content of the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues:

We don’t yet know what form and shape this project will take – what tone, what content, what aesthetic – this will all be determined by the next six months and our collaborators. What we do know is the aesthetics of access will be a consideration throughout – and we will have a challenge with translation and captioning in quad-lingual Singapore. We hope our interviewees will have a sense of ownership, and the work will inspire and confound expectation, and the process will be one of symbiosis. I know there will be so much to learn from our Singapore collaborators, and a wealth of riches to be celebrated in this multicultural, intercultural theatre project of communication and dialogue.

UK Collaborators:

Director Phillip Zarrilli and performer Sara Beer are both long-term collaborators. I first worked with Sara with Graeae Theatre in 1987, when, as graduates, we both got our first jobs with this inspiring company. We have worked together consistently ever since, often with Disability Arts Cymru, a great organisation I am proud to be patron of.

Phillip and I have worked internationally as co-creators and collaborators for fifteen years, and has directed many of my plays, recently another Unlimited Commission, ‘Cosy’, which opened at Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016, and featured Sara as the enigmatic Maureen.

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

What has come clear to me in the writing of this extended blog is the importance of Unlimited in supporting, nurturing and promoting work – in enabling creativity to flourish and artistic careers to thrive. It is such a remarkable hydra organisation with many heads and needs to be congratulated, I feel, for its ground-breaking work and determination to bring about change, its considered efforts for a more equal, and culturally diverse society.

Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-20 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012.

Unlimited and all the funders: thank you.





Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors: Selected Plays by Kaite O’Reilly

I’m delighted to make this pre-publication announcement: Oberon books will publish five of my plays and performance texts to coincide with the World premiere of Cosy at the Wales Millennium Centre in March 2016.

The news is so fresh, we haven’t yet settled on the image for the cover. I’ve been liaising with my agents and editor at Oberon about what production photographs to use after drawing up a shortlist by the fantastically talented Toby Farrow and Patrick Baldwin, who documented In Water I’m Weightless (National Theatre Wales) and peeling (Graeae Theatre Company) respectively. Mock-ups of the front and back covers will be made early in the New Year, with publicity bling thanks to Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian. My long-term collaborator John McGrath, out-going artistic director of National Theatre Wales and in-coming director of the Manchester International Festival, will write the preface.

What follows is from Oberon books website

Atypical Plays For Atypical Actors is the first of its kind: a collection of dramas which redefines the notion of normalcy and extends the range of what it is to be human. From monologues, to performance texts, to realist plays, these involving and subversive pieces explore disability as a portal to new experience.

Includes the plays: peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Although disabled characters appear often in plays within the Western theatrical tradition, seldom have the writers been disabled or Deaf themselves, or written from those atypical embodied experiences. This is what contributes to making Kaite O’Reilly’s Selected Plays essential reading – critically acclaimed plays and performance texts written in a range of styles over twelve years, but all informed by a political and cultural disability perspective. They ‘answer back’ to the moral and medical models of disability and attempt to subvert or critique assumptions and negative representations of disabled people.

The selected plays and performance texts exhibit a broad approach to issues around disability. Some, like In Water I’m Weightless/The ‘d’ Monologues (part of the Cultural Olympiad and official festival celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics) are embedded in disability politics, aesthetics, and ‘crip’ humour. A montage of monologues that can be performed solo or as a chorus, they challenge the normative gaze and celebrate all the possibilities of human variety. The Almond and the Seahorse is different, a ‘mainstream’ character-led realist drama about survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury, with subversive politics in its belly. A response to ‘tragic but brave’ depictions of head injury and memory loss, and informed by personal experience, the play interrogates the reality of living with TBI, questioning who the ‘victims’ are.

peeling, a landmark play written for one Deaf and two disabled female actors, was originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company in 2002, 2003, and for BBC Radio 3. A ‘feminist masterpiece…quietly ground breaking’ (Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman), it has become a set text for Theatre and Drama and Disability Studies university degree courses in the UK and US. Frequently remounted, its lively meta-theatrical form supports its central themes of war, eugenics, and a woman’s control over her fertility, which are as relevant today as ever.

The performance text the 9 Fridas is a complex mosaic offering multiple representations of arguably the world’s most famous female artist, Frida Kahlo, reclaiming her as a disability icon. Performed in Mandarin translation, it was the closing production of the 2014 Taipei Art Festival and will transfer to Hong Kong in October 2016. It is currently being translated into German, Hindi, and Spanish.

Cosy is a darkly comedic look at the joys and humiliations of getting older and how we shuffle off this mortal coil. Three generations of a dysfunctional family explore their choices in a world obsessed with eternal youth, and asks whose life (or death) is it, anyway? An Unlimited Commission, Cosy will premiere and tour nationally in 2016, appearing at the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre and Tramway.

The book will be published 1 March 2016 and is available for pre-orders at Oberon and Amazon




Nigel Charnock

Nigel Charnock was working on In Water I’m Weightless as our maverick, astonishing choreographer when he had to withdraw owing to illness. His death this week has been a mighty blow – and not just to us, but across the world.

Tonight I saw five beautiful, defiant performers move their bodies beautifully and defiantly, as Nigel had taught them, across the stage – his energy, wit, grace, and subversion still present, alive, vital.
 How we miss him.

Our director, John McGrath, wrote about Nigel and his involvement in this project on the National Theatre Wales community website. He describes our joy and loss far better than I ever could, and I hope he will permit my reproducing those words here:

I didn’t know Nigel Charnock for long (though of course I knew of his work for many years), but in the short time that I did, his fierce, fearless creative spirit had a huge impact on me.  The news of his death on Wednesday evening, just a few weeks after a cancer diagnosis, has me, and the cast of In Water I’m Weightless on which he worked, reeling, but also grateful for the precious days we spent in a rehearsal room with him. 

Nigel first appeared in the National Theatre Wales office early in 2010.  He’d heard about our plans for the company’s launch year and felt he should be in touch.  After a time when he’d mainly been working abroad he was keen to find new ways to make work, and new people to collaborate with.  He was hugely open about what that might mean.  He’d written a play but he also wanted to work on other people’s projects.  He wanted to try new forms.  He wanted to work in different contexts.  A massively established and respected artist, he seemed to be driven not by ego or reputation, but only by the desire to set off on new creative adventures.  

It was already too late for me to involve him in the launch year programme, but by the end of that meeting I was convinced that he should be part of our next year of work.  When I started to work with Kaite O’Reilly on the texts that were to become In Water…, the idea of working with Nigel to explore the words and bodies that would make up that piece quickly arose, and soon Nigel became very central to the thinking about what In Water could be.

On a selfish front, I was particularly pleased that Nigel would be working on a show I was directing, as I really wanted to see him at work.  I will never forget the first day of auditions we did for the show in summer 2011.  For hours on end Nigel had groups of people wandering in and out of what seemed like a huge day-long physical improvisation.  Within minutes of working with him you could see people’s relationships to their bodies shifting – and I could see the shapes and possibilities of a piece of theatre emerging.

I remember saying to Kaite that this would be the easiest piece I’d ever had to direct – I just needed to watch Nigel improvise with the performers and help pick the best bits!

It didn’t work out quite like that, as a few days before we went into our final rehearsal period Nigel was diagnosed with cancer; but in the meantime we had cast the show and workshopped the piece with our actors.  Those workshop sessions with Nigel were amont the most extraordinary I have ever spent in a rehearsal room.  At the start of the day Nigel would just roll across the floor and pretty soon the whole cast was with him, creating shapes and relationships that over the course of several days turned into pieces of choreography.  The key dances for In Water – Duets, Michael Jackson, and Heavy Load – were made during that time. (Though the input of our wonderful Associate Choreographer, Catherine Bennet, who stepped in to complete Nigel’s work should not be underestimated.)

I will cherish that rehearsal time with Nigel not just for his work on In Water, but also for the many lessons I learned about how to create trust and freedom in a rehearsal room; how to open up unexpected landscapes for people to explore.  And more than anything else, how your own behaviour as an artist creates possibilities for others.  Nigel only had to move for others to feel they too could move in new and extraordinary ways.  Some art is beautiful but sealed off – there to wonder at.  Nigel’s art was an invitation to imagine – to step through the door with him into a different, more extraordinary world.  

Thank you for that lesson Nigel.  With love and respect, John


New Welsh Review 96: Kaite O’Reilly on the Cultural Olympiad.








Cover of New Welsh Review: NWR issue 96

Kaite O’Reilly on the Cultural Olympiad. An extract from ‘Rich Text’ NWR 96:

It’s 1995 and I’m lying in front of the wheels of a bus in Wood Street, Cardiff. The bus is ticking over, the driver occasionally revving the engine to try and scare me and so dislodge my body from beneath his bumper. As he does so, a thrilling reverberation is sent through the fat rubber of the wheel and into my waist. I am exhilarated and equally terrified. I haven’t been in an accident; I’m participating in a demonstration by the disability rights movement’s Direct Action Network, insisting ‘public transport’ is indeed public and accessible to all. DAN have brought the centre of Cardiff to a standstill, and other disabled activists have halted the trains at Cardiff Central. My contribution to the protest is over swiftly. Within seconds I’m yanked out by my feet.

I’ve always liked my politics with adrenaline.

I’ve always liked my writing infused with politics – but delicately so.    

My involvement with the disability civil rights movement and culture has impacted on the content, form, and aesthetic of my creative work; it has helped shape me into the writer I am.

Want to read the full article? Go to: http://www.newwelshreview.com/shop.php


When NWR editor Gwen Davies asked me to write an article for the Summer issue of the journal, reflecting on the Cultural Olympiad and my Unlimited commission In Water I’m Weightless, I was happy to oblige. The Unlimited commissions have allowed me to develop a complex piece of work over a considerable period of time, and will culminate in a performance by Deaf and disabled actors, on a national platform, creating a significant political and cultural precedent. John McGrath of National Theatre Wales will direct the montage of my text, Nigel Charnock’s movement/choreography, and media artist Paul Clay’s video/design.

The article appears in the section ‘Rich Text’, which focuses on process and the technical aspects of writing. It was great to be able to reflect on the relationship  between my political life and how those beliefs and actions may impact on cultural expression – how  lying down in front of a bus seventeen years ago may have influenced not just the content and form of what I write, but how I perceive myself as a writer at work in the world.

Unfortunately I can’t reproduce more than the excerpt, above, and in a bid to give support and solidarity to what is increasingly an endangered species – the literary magazine – I’d like to give a brief overview of what I feel is a diverse and thought-provoking edition of New Welsh Review:

The opening line of John Harrison’s article on St Kilda grabbed me and plunged me in: ‘ I forget about the face of the young woman in the photo as the massive bird attacks my face’ he begins – and I couldn’t stop reading until his final punctuation mark. The first of a series on ‘Islands on the Edge’, it is evocative, immersive writing.

From out-lying islands to the US, Egypt, and Argentina, there is an international flavour to the issue, with an article by Matthew David Scott on Occupy USA, Grahame Davies’s imaginary visit to Cairo’s St David’s Building, a former department store run by the Davies Bryan family, decorated with Iolo Morganwg’s druidic ‘secret sign’, whilst Sarah Howe explores the work of American poets Elyse Fenton, Dora Malech, and Darcie Dennigan.  Richard Gwyn reviews Traveller of the Century, an epic novel by Argentine Andrés Neuman, one of the Bogotá39 list of promising young Latin American writers. Some of TS Eliot prizewinner Philip Gross’s poetry is reproduced, alongside the essential review section.

Translations include a Chinese poem by Xiao Kaiyu, adapted by Pascale Petit, and Tony Bianchi’s story, Eric ’n’ Ernie, translated from the original Welsh by the author. Further information on the edition, plus the new look blog can be found at: www.newwelshreview.com

Literary journals and reviews are important to our cultural landscape. They are often our champions as well as our critics, providing a platform for the emerging, and established writer. I always think they are worth supporting – we need to be the readers as well as the writers.

For information on In Water I’m Weightless, please go to: http://nationaltheatrewales.org/whatson/performance/ntw20


In Water I’m Weightless: in development

Nick Phillips and Sara Beer in NTW’s developmental workshop of In Water I’m Weightless.

Many text-based productions are straight-forward in content and form: they are interpretations of existing scripts. So what’s the process for a ensemble piece using music, design, movement and selected monologues, with a newly-formed company who have never all met, never mind collaborated before?

This has been the challenge to National Theatre Wales this week, in development with In Water I’m Weightless, my commission from Unlimited, part of the Cultural Olympiad.

We have a sterling cast of emerging and established performers: Mat Fraser, Mandy Colleran, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips and Sophie Stone working alongside director John McGrath, designer Paul Clay, movement director Nigel Charnock and emerging director Sara Beer. It’s a dream creative team – almost an embarrassment of riches – and the prevailing question in the weeks leading to this r&d period was where and how to start?

John decided for us, feeling the actors should lead this part of the process. The text we will eventually use in the production next year will be culled from a large body of work I’ve been developing over several year, The ‘d’ Monologues, which have been created specifically for Deaf and disabled actors. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the issues surrounding casting (Cripping up is the twenty-first century answer to blacking up) and John felt this was a creative place to begin. Alongside the texts sent to the cast in advance, John posed several questions, including asking the performers to select parts they’d love to play but would never usually be cast in, and to identify sections which had resonance for them, which felt closest to their ‘voice’.

What followed was a fascinating exploration which challenged casting to ‘type’. As a way in to the work, we cast across gender, age, impairment, and sexual preference, reading the speeches the actors felt they would never usually get to play, making some wonderful discoveries – for example, a middle aged man can play a part written for a child without prompting unintended humour. We also found a universality in this non-traditional casting – our characters became Everyman and Everywoman, rather than the monologues being seen as autobiographical, specific only to that individual.






Aided by his fantastic music collection, Nigel got the company moving, magically (and almost invisibly) creating shared physical vocabulary, so by the end of the week the actors were presenting physical scores and short choreographed sections. Combined with the projected animated text and live camera work Paul introduced, it was an impressive start to a process.

Those who saw our work-in-progress sharing on Friday were struck by the sense of a tight ensemble dynamic already in existence.

Our only complaint as we parted after the intense week was that seven months would have to pass before we got together again.