Tag Archives: NTW20

The Stage, Disability Arts Online, and Sparklewheels on In Water I’m Weightless.

I started this blog a year ago, wanting to document process and hopefully reveal some of the skills and experiences I as a dramaturg/performance writer may go through when making work in a broad range of styles.

I also want to have this as a place for discussion and reflection – dialogue, if you like.

My most recent production, In Water I’m Weightless, with National Theatre Wales, closed at The Purcell Rooms, Southbank Centre, London, as art of the Cultural Olympiad and celebratory Unlimited Festival, between the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I am now working in Berlin, but receiving more reactions to the work – interviews, reports, and reviews. I will partly reproduce them here, with the link to the relevant website so you can read further, if you so wish.

What follows is a mixture of opinion and perspectives – from the so-called ‘mainstream’ speciality industry publications (The Stage), disability culture (DAO) and a personal blog, informed by a disability perspective (Sparklewheels). It might be an illuminating mix!

Kaite O’Reilly: Putting the focus on humanity

Friday 31 August 2012Derek Smith for The Stage

Playwright Kaite O’Reilly is seeking to confront and confound people’s perceptions of disability with her latest production, writes Derek Smith:


Photo: Hayley Madden




A decade ago, Kaite O’Reilly, the award-winning playwright, poet and disability arts campaigner, created a stir. Peeling, the darkly comic play she had just written for the Graeae Theatre Company, proved groundbreaking enough, but some of the language used to champion her views on disability in theatre, must have caused a fair few in theatre to undergo some soul searching.

Speaking to O’Reilly recently in-between rehearsals for her new show, In Water I’m Weightless, there’s clearly still a burning belief that what the international dramaturg, author, mentor, tutor and honorary fellow at Exeter University said all those years ago hit the bull’s eye.

“One of the lines from that play has become a slogan,” she reflects with palpable pride. “What I said 10 years ago was that ‘cripping up’ had become the new, 21st century answer to blacking up. You know, that Richard III thing when someone pretends to have a hump or lose a leg, and so on. Mental health, disability and impairment roles are in so many plays, but invariably still played by non-disabled actors pretending to have that disability,” she says.

In 2012, it’s still the case, but it is getting better, she says. There’s still a huge amount of work to be done in the area of disability acceptance and inclusion in the arts – a fact borne out by actress Lisa Hammon’s recent comments in The Stage (August 23, News, page 2). “We just have to encourage people to get over their worries and their fears, says O’Reilly. “But, it’s very interesting now because people are getting excited about the challenge and the ideas.”

To read more of this interview, please go to:





The official image of Unlimited Festival by the superb Sue Austin.



.Paul F Cockburn for Disability Arts Online (DAO) Talks to Kaite O’Reilly and the Cast of In Water I’m Weightless about the production:

After an acclaimed run in Cardiff, National Theatre Wales and a cast of deaf and disabled performers brings the award-winning Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ to London as part of the Unlimited festival at the Southbank Centre.But how did such an imaginative, poignant and funny work come together? Paul F Cockburn, dropped in during the final week of rehearsals last July.

The morning DAO drops in on rehearsals, the cast have been working on In Water I’m Weightless for four solid weeks. With opening night now only a few days away, the momentum is palpable as the show’s ensemble cast — Mandy Colleran (who has to drop out after injury), Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole — physically flex and warm their bodies to the soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The morning, according to NTW Media Officer Catrin Rogers, will be spent primarily doing ‘tech’. This is the first time the cast have been given their costumes, so the focus will be on going through the ‘tops and tails’ of scenes, focusing not on performance but the practical issues of stage positions and costume changes.

Director John E McGrath underlines how the cast should raise any issues they have from this process, not least visually impaired Karina Jones, who at one point has to dance in a big dress while wearing high heals. She’s up for it, but there are concerns: “You have a go at everything, because you’re fearless,” John tells her, though he later wonders if the question of her shoes will “haunt the whole production”.

The afternoon is dominated by the first proper run-through of the piece that brings together not just the cast but also the technical team with the music, soundscape and visual projections which are an integral part of the show. “Focus on meaning, on the work that’s been done on a scene,” John tells the cast.

“There are no happy endings. There are just run-throughs,” responds popular cast-member Nick Phillips, humorously paraphrasing what all too quickly becomes as an important theme of the work, repeated through the production.

Nick is the ‘original find’ of this production. Although professionally trained as a dancer, he had given up on performance after a car accident. It was involvement in an earlier NTW production that helped change his mind.

“I kind of just came to the conclusion that, actually, it was no different to what I used to do; it just happens that I have my wheelchair now,” he explains. “I’m still a bit wary of this not being my usual projected image on stage. My safety net is the others around me. I think I would have a different feeling about it if I was on my own — that first step onto the stage would be a lot scarier if I didn’t have these guys around me.”

To read more of this please go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1873

Two further reviews of In Water I’m Weightless is also on the Disability Arts Online website.

Rehearsal photo of In Water I’m Weightless, by Kaite O’Reilly.

Finally, the fabulous Nina of Sparklewheels.blogspot writes about the panel I was part of ‘Making work for Deaf and hearing Audiences’, plus reviews In Water… on her blog.

‘In Water I’m Weightless’ starts off like a fashion show. Pounding music and bright lights is the backdrop as the five actors enter the stage in elaborate gowns, suits and striking headpieces. The characters take turns in shouting at the audience, shouting that we are all the same, we are all mortal. After this impressive beginning, ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ goes on to explore how the story of the five characters overlaps, and how it overlaps with everyone’s story.

 To read more of the above, plugs coverage of Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre, please go to Nina’s blog:


A thought-provoking, beautiful piece of theatre: In Water I’m Weightless review







Western Mail/ Wales On-line 

Karen Price

IN the centre of the stage, two actors are discussing the roles they are usually offered.

“I’m always playing zombies,” says one. “The sick and twisted psycho,” says the other. Instead, they dream of being cast as the “fish and chip customer” in EastEnders or the “waiting patient” in Holby City. For the actors – David Toole and Nick Phillips – are disabled and they’re sick of being stereotyped.

Their observations are part of a series of monologues and conversations making up National Theatre Wales’ latest production, In Water I’m Weightless. Director John E McGrath has taken the words of writer Kaite O’Reilly and transformed them into a powerful piece of theatre, shattering any stereotypes.

Staged inside the Wales Millennium Centre’s intimate Weston Studio, five disabled performers get their points across effectively through speech, music, film and both graceful and energetic movement.

During the opening scene, we’re made aware of how life can change in a matter of seconds for any one of us and just how fragile the human body is.

The monologues – which are performed in inventive ways, proving they don’t have to just be delivered from a bar stool – cover everything from growing up with a disability and strangers’ perceptions to being comfortable in your own skin.

We’re reminded that almost all of the brilliant generals were disabled, including Napoleon.

“Impairment, gives you an edge – you have to work harder.”

The performers work brilliantly together and the production, designed by Paul Clay, is slick. What’s all the more incredible is that McGrath had to completely rethink the hour-long show after cast member Mandy Colleran was forced to pull out just hours before the opening night due to injury.

In Water I’m Weightless – staged as part of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport – is a thought-provoking, beautiful piece of theatre which makes you realise that everyone is unique – and equal.

In Water I’m Weightless is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff until Saturday. Box office: 029 2063 6464

Karen Price

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/showbiz-and-lifestyle/theatre-in-wales/2012/08/01/review-in-water-i-m-weightless-national-theatre-wales-91466-31519500/#ixzz22I0xUdQA

The show must go on – and spectacularly so…. In Water I’m Weightless.

David Toole – In Water I’m Weightless. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

It’s a cliche, the show must go on – and we know cliches exist because they are true…. In the break before the dress rehearsal for National Theatre Wales’s production of my script In Water I’m Weightless last Wednesday 25th July, one of our performers, the phenomenal Mandy Colleran, had an accident and had to be taken to Accident and Emergency. We cancelled the first preview the following night, and, under Mandy’s encouragements, began to consider our options for the performance continuing until she was able to join us again.

There were various possibilities: To get someone, probably the production’s emerging director, Sara Beer, to read in the lines, acknowledging our Mandy-shaped hole in the production, or to rework the complete performance, re-assigning Mandy’s lines to other members of the cast, re-casting, re-blocking and re-choreographing the performance. Cancelling more than the first preview was not, we all agreed, an option, so we chose to do the latter, reworking the whole performance in 24 hours. And so we set off on this Herculean task – and never have I been more aware of the humour, strengths, flexibility, and professionalism of a company…

In Water I’m Weightless is a collage of monologues which are performed collectively, chorally, bilingually, and as solos. It is an ensemble piece, so the cast are practised in working together as one entity – but as it is an ensemble, Mandy’s absence was sorely felt. Swiftly Sara Beer, John McGrath, and I re-allocated the lines, making edits, shifts, and cutting one scene. Overnight the actors – Mat Fraser, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips and Sophie Stone – learnt new scenes and staging – appearing virtually word-perfect the next morning for rehearsals.

John worked us chronologically through the script, the technical crew and cast adjusting, amending, reinventing, but always staying true to the original concept and interpretations of the text. We broke for lunch – the actors dotted individually around the front of the Wales Millennium Centre, enjoying the rare summer sun, sandwiches and scripts in hand, running lines, learning the new texts, whilst in the dark of the studio, designer  Paul Clay and the technical crew re-edited videos and replotted the lighting design.

We finished rehearsing the new order in time for a run at 5pm – the whole company going above and beyond expectations in their focus and mastery of the new version – with just enough time for dinner before preparing for the opening, at 8pm. The show went up to a packed audience and with a mixture of pure adrenaline, professionalism, and extraordinary skill the cast and crew carried it off with aplomb. We have a new version which will work well until Mandy rejoins us – and now have a glorious week of performances ahead of us…

The Guardian guide – This week’s new theatre and dance: In Water I’m Weightless

I was delighted to get this preview from Lyn Gardner in today’s Guardian Guide:
In Water I'm Weightless

In Water I’m Weightless publicity image.

In Water I’m Weightless, Cardiff

A terrific cast of deaf and differently abled performers has been assembled for this National Theatre of Wales production, written by the brilliant Kaite O’Reilly, whose LeanerFasterStronger – about the quest for perfection and what it takes to be the best – was recently seen at Sheffield Crucible. Directed by NTW’s artistic director, John E McGrath, and with movement by Nigel Charnock, the show uses O’Reilly’s poetic texts to challenge preconceptions around disability, celebrate difference, and question exactly what it is we mean by normal.

Weston Studio, Millennium Centre, Thu to 4 Aug

Lyn Gardner


Slow mo’ filming, audio description, and the Radio Wales Arts Show








Mat Fraser recording his part of the audio description CD/download for In Water I’m Weightless.

It is, I think, a most peculiar way to make a living. No two days are the same and my working life at the moment is of such a surreal quality, normally loquacious taxi drivers are silent as I outline the activity….

‘Today at work I’m observing slow motion filming of water being poured onto various parts of various actors’ bodies…’

Still, that’s probably nothing compared to what Jacob probably said when he got home for tea that night (‘Well, I hung off the top of a ladder and had to pour a stream of water from a glass jug onto a specific mark on the bare shoulder of Karina Jones, whilst a group of men watched and filmed it’).








Jacob, Karina and the crew slow mo filming

We are in the final week of rehearsals for In Water I’m Weightless with National Theatre Wales – a week filled with media activity as well as intense rehearsals and run-throughs.

It is our designer, Paul Clay, who has brought the slow motion filming and mediatised elements into the production. An accomplished designer and artist, he also live video mixes in the underground club scene of New York, where he lives.

The design and visual world of the play is a response to the poetic conceits at work in the text – the weightlessness from floating in water, and the sense of freedom and liberation this creates (see my earlier blog about filming stunt dives).

This is in direct contrast to the weight of prejudices, fear, and preconceptions usually loaded onto the disabled body. It was our director (and artistic director of NTW), John McGrath, who pulled out this quotation ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ from the large body of monologues I have written over the past few years, and from which the text of this montaged production is taken.

This is my second show with Paul, and John. The first, Perfect, at Contact Theatre in Manchester, also had a strongly visual component and won Paul the M.E.N award for best design of 2004, whilst I won best play. It is wonderful to be back in a rehearsal room with both, aware of the growth in experience, skill, and stature since we last collaborated.






Designer Paul Clay recording a description of his set, costumes, and visual/video artwork on In Water I’m Weightless for visually impaired and blind audience members.

As In Water I’m Weightless is an Unlimited commission, part of the Cultural Olympiad promoting the work of Deaf and disabled artists, we are keen to make the work as accessible as possible – which brings us to the second mediatised experience of the week.

Karina Jones, one of the cast, suggested we prepare a pre-show recording for visually impaired and blind audience members, so they would have a sense of some of the visual and physical aspects of the work. One performance at the Wales Millennium Centre will have live audio description (a headset is provided for audience members, if required, and during the performance a description of action and visual elements is relayed), but we were all excited with Karina’s suggestion. I provided bullet-points for the performers to use as stimulus – a description of their bodies, costumes, and the dance/movement sequences – and Paul spoke about the visuals and his design concept. Mike Beer recorded them, and this should be available prior to the show at Wales Millennium Centre as a CD, and also hopefully as a download from NTW’s website.

The final media experience of the week occurred on Thursday, when cast member Nick Phillips and I were guests on the BBC Radio Wales Arts Show, with Nicola Heywood Thomas. The interview will be available for the next few days as ‘listen again’ on:


Unlimited Abilities: article on In Water I’m Weightless





Confounding expectations and challenging preconceptions are the avowed aims of In Water I’m Weightless – the latest production from National Theatre Wales. KAREN PRICE of The Western Mail/Wales Online met the writer and director of this provocative new work. 

17th July 2012.


Monologues will be delivered in a series of innovative ways when a cast of deaf and disabled performers take to the stage for an Olympic celebration. Karen Price meets the writer and director of the new production.

After receiving a Creative Wales Award in 2008, writer Kaite O’Reilly decided to use the funding to explore monologues. Four years on, her project is coming to fruition in the shape of a major performance produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the Olympic celebrations.

In Water I’m Weightless takes a provocative look at the body and will be staged in Cardiff and London by a cast of six deaf and disabled performers.

Combining movement and live projections, O’Reilly’s poetic, poignant and, at times, humorous texts are inspired by the imagination, experiences and attitudes of disabled people across the UK.

“As a playwright, I’d always written multiple parts and not approached monologues,” says the West Wales-based writer whose theatre credits include The Almond And The Seahorse (Sherman Cymru) and The Persians (National Theatre Wales).

“So after receiving the Creative Wales Award I explored the form of the monologue and was mentored by various experts. I also started writing a large body of work that was specifically for deaf and disabled performers reflecting their experiences.

“I’d been very frustrated at the huge amount of plays that represent disability but they often fall into negative stereotypes.  I wanted to present something from a different perspective  and I also wanted to ensure the piece was performed by deaf and disabled actors as there are so many fabulous performers out there.”

O’Reilly spoke to John McGrath, the artistic director of National Theatre Wales about the project she was working on – they had collaborated in the past when she adapted The Persians,based on Aeschylus’ original work, for NTW’s inaugural opening season.

Staged on a military range in the Brecon Beacons, it won acclaim from both audiences and critics – and Kaite went on to win the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her efforts.

So when O’Reilly received a commission for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport, NTW were keen to come on board as producers.

Directed by McGrath, In Water I’m Weightless will be staged at the intimate Weston Studio at the WMC – the first time NTW has worked at the venue – before there are three performances  at London’s Southbank Centre.

“It’s great to work with Kaite again on something that’s completely different from The Persians and this touches upon a lot of experiences which are rarely performed on stage,” says McGrath.

“When people think of monologues they often think they will be performed like The Vagina Monologues or a piece of stand up comedy – by people sitting on a stool on the stage. But we wanted to play around with the different ways that monologues can work in the theatre.”

In Water I’m Weightless is a multi-media performance which celebrates the athleticism of the performers through some clever choreography.  It also incorporates film and music, including tracks from Dame Shirley Bassey and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The six cast members – Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole – all come from different performance backgrounds and had a say on which monologues should be chosen for the production.

“We wanted six performers who were incredibly different from each other who would bring unique personalities to the stage,” says McGrath. “The piece has got so many moods – it’s funny and very poetic sometimes. It’s not at all what people might imagine when they think about theatre and disability.”

Both O’Reilly and McGrath are keen to show audiences how theatre can break away from stereotypes when it comes to disabled performers.

“There are often so many cliches but this is nothing like that.”

McGrath is collaborating once more with award-winning New York designer and media artist Paul Clay on the set and costume designs.

“The production features some amazing costumes which really work with the simple set.”

The set itself has a big screen backdrop and a series of suspended lights onto which film footage will appear.

With little over a week to go until In Water I’m Weightless is premiered, McGrath admits that the rehearsal process has very much been improvised.

“The monologues haven’t been written in any particular order so we’ve been moving them around. It’s more like constructing a dance show rather than a theatre play when you have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

In Water I’m Weightless is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, from July 26 to August 4. There will be a post-show discussion on August 2. The box office number is 029 2063 6464

Jake Arnott: My hero, Mandy Colleran

I first met Mandy Colleran twenty six years ago in Liverpool and here we are, collaborating on National Theatre Wales’s production of In Water I’m Weightless

I’m grateful to my friend and fellow writer Sean Lusk for alerting me to the following article from The Guardian Review on 6th July 2012: Jake Arnott writing about the performer and cultural activist Mandy Colleran:

Mandy Colleran by Jake Arnott


Mandy Colleran

Mandy Colleran: ‘She­ ­is constantly engaged in the life around her – as a participant, not just an observer.’ Photograph: National Theatre of Wales

Mandy Colleran is an actor currently in rehearsal for the National Theatre Wales’s production of In Water I’m WeightlessI’ve known her for years as a friend and something of an inspiration. I doubt she’ll take much to the term “hero”, and I’m not so certain about it myself. Because there are dangers of applying “heroism” to people with disabilities – it is often used to portray a “tragic but brave” life, and she’s fought against that for decades as a campaigner for equal rights and empowerment. I’m sure she’d always prefer a ramp to a pedestal. But I admire her, as an actor and an activist, but above all as a bon vivant.

Colleran goes everywhere and sees everything. She gets out so much more than I do – to the theatre, to talks and concerts. I suffer from the writer’s vice of withdrawing from the world. She makes that world accessible to me. She has highly tuned cultural antennae, and always seems to know what’s going on.

Full of ideas and opinions, she is constantly engaged in the life around her – as a participant, not just an observer. She has an insatiable appetite for books and a direct and easy manner of criticism. She would be ideal for a review show. And she has an explosive sense of humour, with a laugh that sometimes can be heard throughout most of Clerkenwell.

In any struggle against the odds Colleran often reminds me that we can do it on our own terms. One winter the snow lay inches deep in central London. I was finding it hard to get around and was suddenly possessed by the thought that she might need some assistance, if only to pick up some shopping or something. I phoned her and heard that familiar scouse voice cutting through a cacophony of shouting. She wasn’t stuck indoors, she was at a demo in the West End, taking action as usual as I tiptoed cautiously along the icy pavement.

• Jake Arnott’s The House of Rumour is published by Sceptre.

Interview with John McGrath and Kaite O’Reilly.








Mandy Colleran in rehearsals, In Water I’m Weightless.

Approaching the end of the third week of rehearsals of In Water I’m Weightless – everything is beginning to fall into shape.

Yesterday director John McGrath and I took part in a live video chat, crouched over a laptop in the makeshift Wardrobe department, surrounded by half-constructed costumes and outrageous hats.

One of the questions was about my role in this process…. I’ve supplied the script, we’re far along in rehearsals – so why am I still here?

Usually when I’m commissioned, I provide the script and stay around for the first two weeks or so of rehearsals, so I can check the text is working and deal with any issues that arise. With this project, we are montaging and collaging together – a four-way process between text, direction, movement/choreography and the visuals/video footage. Owing to this, the script is ever changing – the order morphing. We place two sequences together and at times create an unexpected dynamic, which impacts on the sequencing of the rest of the piece.

It feels an immensely organic process, and as the script is not a linear chronological story, telling one experience, but a mosaic of voices, both signed and spoken, we are crafting the piece together as it emerges, following my original suggested order, which is now changing and developing.

If you would like to follow the interview with John McGrath, artistic director of National Theatre Wales, and writer of In Water I’m Weightless, please go to:


Live Video Chat: Kaite O’Reilly and John McGrath. Thursday 12th July. 2pm.








David Toole in costume. In Water I’m Weightless rehearsals.

National Theatre Wales are impressively twenty first century in their use of social media and on-line engagement when publicising their shows. There is also a refreshingly open attitude to rehearsals and giving access to the process.

The company has its own online community, with a large selection of groups which people can join – a chat group for writers, actors, several companies, etc, as well as blog groups connected to specific productions. We have an In Water I’m Weightless ntw20 blog group, where, depending on what kind of rehearsal day its been, the actors and company leave insulting, sarcastic, or enthusiastic comments  – and the general public can engage there, too.

A new development has been the introduction of live video chat, where company members answer questions from the interested and curious, live on-line, at a set time and date. The first discussion took place last week, with Nick Phillips and Dave Toole appearing as a wonderfully shambolic irreverent and entertaining double-act. This conversation is available to view at: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23758572

Our next live video chat will be tomorrow,  Thursday, 12th July, at 2pm GMT,  with director John McGrath and me, the writer. Anyone interested in joining in this conversation, or with a question to ask either of us, please check out: http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/group/ntw20

Rehearsal diaries: In Water I’m Weightless.

Back in the UK and at work on In Water I’m Weightless with National Theatre Wales. Lee and Kim, some young video makers, are documenting the process. Follow the link, below, to a rehearsal with the cast and interview with super-flid Mat Fraser.