Tag Archives: peeling by Kaite O’Reilly

US premiere of ‘peeling’ opens in Seattle

I’m delighted that the US premiere of ‘peeling’ has opened with Sound Theatre in Seattle. ‘peeling’ is a play in its seventeenth year (originally commissioned, directed and designed by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company in 2002). Suddenly it is finding more productions and viewers than ever before. Earlier this year Taking Flight Theatre Company toured the play around Wales, and it will be remounted for an Autumn tour (details here). This is of course hugely gratifying, but given its themes of war, eugenics, representation and women’s autonomy over their bodies, its relevance in 2019 is regrettable. As one of the Chorus in this meta-theatrical performance laments “Haven’t we been here, before?”

In ‘peeling’ I’ve played with the device of the Chorus in a fictionalised production of ‘The Trojan Women: Then and Now’, which carries on around – and often in spite of – the Deaf and disabled female choral performers. They suspect they’ve been cast just to be ‘the ticked box on an equal opportunities monitoring form’ and long for a time when they will be centre-stage, in an accessible environment giving them the opportunity to perform ‘properly’ – with ‘an all-signing Chorus’, perhaps. Given the descriptions of many of the inclusive productions currently rocking Edinburgh and beyond, this play was (and perhaps remains?) ahead of its time….

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes

In an interview with Broadway World, Teresa Thuman, Director of Sound Theatre said:

“Seattle has never seen a play like this before. The very nature of theatre is to expose and make public all that is human — in every form, every ability. For those who live on the margins, theatre is a way to bring them to the center as fully human beings.”

The full interview can be read here. What follows are images and text from the production, which runs until the end of August:

peeling weaves audio description, sign language, and theatrical spectacle into a no-holds-barred play about representation, women, reproduction, war, and eugenics.  

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes

With brisk wit and domestic backstage comedy, O’ Reilly’s storytelling style has earned comparisons to Beckett and Caryl Churchill. In anoverproduced, postmodern production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Alfa, Coral, and Beatty have been cast in bit parts to fulfill a playhouse’s misplaced diversity program; but as tokens, the trio never experiences true inclusion. Sound Theatre centers disability justice by assembling a production team and cast that brings authentic lived experiences to this groundbreaking production.

Information about the theatre company and the production can be found here

Sound Theatre production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Ken Holmes


Teresa Thuman – Director 

Monique Holt – Assistant Director and Director of Artistic Sign Language

Andrea Kovich – Dramaturg

Parmida Ziaei – Scenic Designer

Taya Pyne – Costume Designer

Adrian Kljucec– Sound Designer

Jared Norman – Projection Designer

Richard Schaefer – Lightning Designer/Technical Director

Robin MaCartney – Props Designer

Zoé Tziotis Shields – Wardrobe Crew, Sound Board Operator

Roland Carette-Meyers – Accessibility Coordinator

Francesca Betancourt – Movement Director

peeling opens International Women’s Day 2019 – first reviews and photos

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

It’s always an incredible privilege and buzz to open a production on 8th March, International Women’s Day. This has now become something of a tradition for me, with ‘richard iii redux’ opening IWD2018 and ‘Cosy’ on IWD2016… I am therefore delighted to make this a hat-trick with Elise Davison’s new production of  my play ‘peeling’ for Taking Flight Theatre Company, which opened at Riverfront in Newport as the culmination of a day of events and celebrations. The extraordinary cupcakes for opening night gives a flavour of what a delicious day it was…

Such naughtiness aside, it’s gratifying to see such fantastic initial critical responses to the production just as the company are setting off to tour Wales, Oxford and Manchester in the coming months (there will also be a tour of England in the autumn).

When I wrote the play originally to a commission from Jenny Sealey of Graeae Theatre Company, I sought to embed audio description into the actual fabric of the text. This is something that we hadn’t seen done before  2002 (when the first production premiered), and has only been done minimally since by playwrights such as the brilliant Mike Kenny. The full text was projected onto the back wall as part of Sealey’s design, and this notion of creative captioning has continued since.

The cast of Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera/Raquel Garcia

I’ve loved that the notion of creative access is at the heart of Taking Flight Theatre’s process and that director Elise Davison and designer Becky Davies (with their many collaborators) have been so imaginatively engaged with the aesthetics of access. I shan’t reveal too much for those who hopefully will catch the production on its Welsh/Oxford/Manchester tour this Spring, and wider English tour in the autumn, but I will say Becky’s access table – initially for visually impaired audience members to get a sensorial taste of the set and costume – is terrific and well worth experiencing…

I’ll be joining the company on tour for a Q&A after the performance on 19th March at Theatr Clwyd and 26th March at Aberystwyth Arts Centre for a post-show chat chaired by David Rabey. Further dates of the tour are available on Taking Flight’s website. I was asked on opening night if the script was available to read – you can get it alongside further texts about difference and disability in my collected Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, published by Oberon.

Meanwhile, here are the first reviews of Elise’s production. I hope you can catch the show when it tours throughout the year – I think it is well worth an outing!

Initial Reviews:

“Taking Flight with Kaite O’Reilly… The show was hailed as a game-changer in feminist and accessible theatre when it was first performed… A strikingly brilliant cast of D/deaf and disabled women are unapologetic in their views and provocations… peeling will challenge audiences to experience theatre afresh..” Full review from Theatre-Wales here.

“…fiery performances… an epic feel magically presented…Heart-warming, funny, emotional and educational, peeling is a beautiful and timely production…A perfect presentation for an imperfect world, peeling deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible as it takes flight…”  Full review from South Wales Entertainment here.

O’Reilly’s text is dense and richly allusive…. There is plentiful bawdy humour alongside the anger in what remains a powerful play… …the most powerful sequence is Alfa’s lengthy, signed poetic monologue, initially untranslated, which is positively balletic in its depiction of past trauma…a lively, witty production..” Full review from The British Theatre Guide here.

Answering back and returning the gaze: Alternative Dramaturgies

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Cover of Horizons/ Theatre no.4. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux

Delighted to receive a copy of Horizons/Theatre numero 5 from the University of Bordeaux Press today, which includes an essay I delivered at a conference in Tangiers last year on ‘Alternative Dramaturgies.’ The work builds on my 2003/06 AHRC Creative Fellowship ‘Alternative Dramaturgies Informed by a d/Deaf and disability Perspective’ and my on-going Fellowship at the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ at Freie Universitat, Berlin, since 2011. The essay is in English, and the abstract follows:

Answering Back and Returning the Gaze: Two examples of ‘alternative dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective.’

Kaite O’Reilly

Abstract:   How do we ‘write’ disability? Is it in the aesthetic, the narratives, the content, the form, or the bodies of the performers? This paper seeks to introduce ‘alternative dramaturgies, informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, exploring some of the dramaturgical developments I have initiated as a playwright working within disability arts and Deaf culture since 1987. Alternative? To the mainstream, hearing, non-disabled perspective, and by ‘alternative dramaturgies’ I mean the processes, structures, content and form which reinvent, subvert or critique ‘traditional’ or ’conventional’ representations, narratives, and dramatic structures in performance.

Much of my work as a playwright and theatre maker explores issues of how distinctive Deaf and disability cultures operate with, against, and/or in opposition to ‘mainstream’ or ‘dominant’ cultural paradigms. The paper will raise questions on the dynamic between majority and disability culture, and signed and spoken languages, looking at the interface and relationship between hearing majority culture and Deaf culture, and experiments in bilingualism between spoken/projected English and theatricalised BSL (British Sign Language).

This paper aims to reflect on my work exploring alternative dramaturgies regarding the aesthetic, content, form, processes, and narratives in a series of my past works, including peeling (Graeae Theatre 2002) and In Praise of Fallen Women (The Fingersmiths Ltd, 2006).


Copies can be obtained through the director, Omar Fertat, Horizons/Theatre omar.fertat@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr

New beginnings and first drafts…. and in praise of rural touring…

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O'Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O’Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

As the new year approaches, I have a new project: a commission from Forest Forge to write a play for their 2014 national tour.

I first worked with Forest Forge theatre company in 2011, when the artistic director, Kirstie Davies, had the inspired idea of producing my play ‘peeling’ and then touring it to village halls in rural areas. ‘peeling’ is a metatheatrical exploration of acting, eugenics, soup recipes, disability and Deaf politics and ‘The Trojen Women’, performed by one Deaf and two disabled performers across a variety of theatre languages… It’s a set text at various universities in Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the world for its radical politics and experimental form.

What I love about Forest Forge and Kirstie’s vision is alongside their national touring, they bring plays into the heart of a rural community – places often overlooked for cultural provision, many miles from building-based theatres and arts centres. What I particularly love is Kirstie’s decision to bring what might be perceived as ‘difficult’, or challenging plays. She doesn’t patronise her audience and well understands how people living outside cities have as broad a taste as those living within, and have just as strong a desire to see ‘edgy’ work. I’m always frustrated by the capital’s assumption that the ‘important’ work happens in the city, when with companies like Knee High, and the National Theatres of Wales and Scotland, some of the most innovative and risk-taking work has been taking place for years very far from the metropolis.

There is also an assumption I’ve come across in city-based theatre circles that rural audiences are somehow less adventurous or ‘able’ for work that pushes the boundaries. As a theatre maker, and someone who lives rurally, I couldn’t disagree more. Back in 2011, when I visited the production when it was touring, performers Ali Briggs, Kiruna Stamell and Nickie Miles-Wildin all spoke of the astonishing response to the work from the audience.  Roger Finn, an audience member wrote on the Forest Forge website: This is what I want from theatre – to be taken into new territories; to experience deep, human contact; to have my brain tickled and to discover new places in my heart. A true joy to go on this bold adventure. http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/peeling

As a playwright, and as someone who lives an hour’s drive from the nearest ‘cultural centre’, it feels a real privilege for my work to be brought to the audience in their communities – but we really need to challenge the assumption the edgy or important work happens only in cities.

And so to my burgeoning new play, set far from a city, on the edge of a forest… Woman of Flowers is inspired by the story of Blodeuwedd, from the ancient Welsh treasure The Mabinogion – a story I have known for decades, since before moving to live in Wales, and one which has captured my imagination.

I’m only starting out on this process, but the script won’t be an adaptation of this great classic, I’ll simply be taking themes and ideas from the original and try to give it a contemporary twist. So far my Woman of Flowers is a stylised telling of desire, duty, adultery, murder and revenge set in an isolated, rural household on the edge of a forest. The production will be presented in spoken and projected English with theatricalised British Sign Language. I will write about the process when the work is sturdy enough to bring into the public gaze, so until then… Good luck with all your writing and creativity….

20 Questions…. Rosaleen McDonagh

Continuing the series of questions offered to writers, sculptors, directors, choreographers, musicians, artists, poets and others involved in the creative process… I’m delighted my dear friend and fellow dramatist Rosaleen McDonagh has agreed to participate. We have known each other many years and I’ve been her mentor and dramaturg on several projects – Mainstream, and Protege. Her vital and unique perspective and theatrical ‘voice’ is a fascinating and important addition to contemporary European drama. It is with the greatest of pleasures I introduce her responses to 20 Questions…


Rosaleen_photoRosaleen McDonagh is a Traveller woman from Sligo.   She worked in Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre where she managed the Violence Against Women programme for 10 years. She is regarded as a leading feminist within the Traveller community.

McDonagh’s work includes The Baby Doll Project, Stuck, She’s Not Mine, and Rings.  McDonagh was shortlisted for the PJ O’ Connor radio play Awards 2010. Colum McCann, Booker Prize winner, gave her the rights to adapt his 2007 novel, Zoli, for stage. Commissioned for a feature article in the Irish Times in 2012 responding to Channel 4’s series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Irish Theatre Magazine also commissioned Cripping Up; Copping Out about Disability Arts in Ireland. Currently in development with RTE, Unsettled, a television drama. Rosaleen has a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies, an MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies and an MPhil in Creative Writing, all from Trinity College Dublin. She is about to embark on a phd in disability studies in Northumbria University on  “ Disabled Traveller Identity: The Affirmative Model” (working title).

What first drew you to your particular practice?

When I was in London during the nineties seeing a lot of Disability Arts the attraction with theatre started.  Back here in Dublin I began to question where were disabled people or disability culture? Simultaneously there had been a number of old Irish plays that had really negative off the wall representations of the Traveller aesthetic.  It was at this point that I started writing my own plays on the quiet. Having friends over for dinner, ploughing them with food and merriment in the hope that they would read my plays.  Fifteen years of writing on the quiet seemed like a cop out.

What was your big breakthrough?

 A reading of my piece John and Josey.  This was about a gay Traveller man and his sister Josey.  Both characters were attempting to push and stretch the cultural boundaries of Traveller identity. After this I had a production of my play “Stuck”. This piece looked at notions of masculinity in the frame of Traveller identity.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Polemics.  As an activist checking and scolding myself for infusing my characters with too much political diatribe.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

Peeling” by Kaite O Reilly and the GRAEae theatre company. The play came to Dublin and I was invited to the opening night.  My stomach did a belly flop.   Tears ran down my cheeks and there was a lot of distress.  My own internalized shame and oppression as a disabled woman was suddenly exposed.  It really did have a profound and lasting effect on me. Also  novelist, poet, essayist and playwright James Baldwin is my source of inspiration.

What’s more important: form or content?

Content. When you have content the shape and making of a piece is easier to manage and imagine. 

How do you know when a project is finished?

You don’t.  As a writer you’re continuously in a state of manic editing.  The audience in a theatre finishes your work for you. How others interpret your work can often bring a writer to a very unexpected place.

Do you read your reviews?

Yes.  But invariably I forget about them.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Forget your age.  Everybody’s moment comes.  Be ready for it, enjoy it but don’t rush it or long for it.  Keep writing.  Try different forms of writing from poetry to prose and essay writing.  Read widely. After you get a rejection letter from the Arts Council force yourself to write a note to thank them and then while you’re on the computer get back to work.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Some of Alice Munro’s original collections of short stories. One of Ian Dury’s shirts or guitar!

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That writing is easy or glamorous. The writer may have these attributes but writing and the art of writing is rigid, messy and unforgiving.

What are you working on now?

Three pieces for theatre.  Protegee which is a piece inspired by Colum McCann’s novel “Zoli” about a female Roma poet, based on the real life poet Papusza in Poland during the 1940s.

Mainstream” an old fashioned love story.

Chapter 13” which documents institutional abuse towards disabled people here in Ireland.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Colum McCann’s novel “Zoli”.  Zadie Smith’s novel “ On Beauty” and one item of Vivienne Westwood’s haute couture collection.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Representation. The burden of representation is ever present. The pressure internally to encapsulate elements of the Traveller aesthetic while honouring disability culture. The binary position.  If I write about Travellers or disabled people mainstream critics say I’m insular.  While my instinct to encompass characters with impairments is strong, I attempt badly to ignore this urge. Then audiences & critics from the disability community reprimand me.  Nobody told me that representation is such a critical part of theatre.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To continue to value my independence.  Cherish my own bodily integrity and to believe my mantra“ I’m  good enough, smart enough, strong enough”.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Today brings with it it’s own joys and confusions. Do the work.  Trust the work. Insecurity and lack of confidence keeps the edge off your ego and hopefully helps bring a measure of humility.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

The critic’s  opinion was Traveller culture and heritage in all it’s form,  oralism, telling stories and music has a linear position in mainstream Irish culture but maybe not on an Irish stage. The canon of Irish literature and theatre misappropriates Traveller culture as objects of settled writers and audiences curiosity. Everything Irish is rooted in Traveller culture but I would say that wouldn’t I?

And the best thing?

That I might have some potential.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

My baby needs time and attention.  Nourishment and space to grow or develop it’s own personality.  My plays, my characters are my babies.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

 Relax, relax.  Francis Bacon’s quote comes to mind:People say relax. What do they mean? I never understand this, where people relax their muscles and they relax everything – I don’t know how to do it. So it’s no use my talking about relaxation”.  Attempting to relax, I murmur this quote and vaguely imagine what it would be like to be fully at ease with my Cerebral Palsy.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

How and when to be alone.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

What’s it like being part of the first generation of Irish Travellers who has kicked back at cultural traditions and expectations of Traveller women?  Sometimes it’s a lonely place to be.  It can be frustrating and isolating.  But then there are magic moments of profound excitement and sheer boldness and I love breaking all the rules and stereotypes.


Previous posts on the blog about or concerning Rosaleen:



A review of Mainstream: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/rosaleen-mcdonagh-mainstream

A documentary about community worker, political activist and playwright Rosaleen McDonagh during the build up to her play ‘Stuck’ in the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQLUwJuo5o4