Tag Archives: scripts

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ review – Disability Arts Online


Reviews are gold dust. They are even more rare when the publication under the critical lens is a collection of plays. Plays get reviewed in production; they seldom make it into print, never mind being reviewed in print. So owing to this, I am hugely appreciative of the publications who have shown interest and support of my ‘atypical’ and crip’ work by providing critical engagement for my selected plays.

First up is the ever provocative and excellent Disability Arts Online, with a review by  Sonali Shah. I reproduce much of the review here, but you can read the  full text on the website, where DAO readers can find a 30% discount voucher for the collection.

Disability Arts Online: Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors Review July 4 2016 by Sonali Shah.

‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ is a collection of five unique, but equally powerful, poetic and political pieces of drama composed by the award winning playwright, Kaite O’Reilly. Review by Dr Sonali Shah (University of Glasgow)

O’Reilly’s policy and practice as a writer is to ‘put crips in our scripts’.[…] So with this motto in mind, O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays’ present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference. The writer works together with her actors in a non-hierarchical and innovative way, continuously and purposefully adapting to each unique movement, to create the five theatrical pieces in this collection: Peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Written in the 21st Century and from an insider lens, these five plays subvert traditional notions of normalcy and encourage the possibilities of human difference to explore the whirlwind of relationships, emotions, choices and identities that, both construct us and are constructed by us, as we all move through life and try to work out what it is to be human.

These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen, which revolve around medicalisation and normalisation using disabled characters as a metaphor for tragedy, loss or horror.

The first play, peeling, described by the Scotsman as ‘a feminist masterpiece’, is a fine example of meta-theatre that explores themes of war, eugenics, and fertility. Written specifically for a Deaf woman and two disabled women (each strong, witty actors and feisty activists), peeling is a postmodern take on the epic Trojan Women.

Although the three characters – Alfa, Beaty and Coral – are consigned to the chorus, O’Reilly makes them central to this play, revealing their real personalities and hidden truths through vocal cat-fights and heckling matches (interpreted via BSL and audio description) while they wait to play the two minute part they have been awarded in the name of ‘inclusion’.

The Almond and the Seahorse is the second script, and the most structured of them all. Written for a cast of five, it examines the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for the individual and their slowly fading loved ones. Focusing on two couples (where one partner in each has a diminishing memory) it demonstrates the slow debilitating power of memory loss on present relationships and dreams for the future.

Reading this script evokes a sense of how critical and delicate the human memory is. This is reflected in the words of Dr Falmer (the ambitious neuropsychologist character whose beloved father had TBI) – ‘we should not invest so in such perishable goods’ (p.127). The vibrant clarity of monologue, dialogue and stage directions on the page makes it easy to visualise this play on the stage. Highly affecting, the performed text will undoubtedly give much food for thought for the audiences.

The third play in this collection In Water I am Weightless – is an apt title for exploring the heavy burden disability seems to provoke in society as in water it remains hidden. Written for a cast of six Deaf and disabled actors, and entrenched in crip humour and energy of the Disability Movement, the performance script adopts a monologue and dialogue style to create a mosaic of stories of the realities of living in a disabling society and being seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need’ by the non-disabled.[…] Performed at Unlimited in London 2012, and inspired by a range of informal conversations with disabled and Deaf citizens, this work is really does put “us” in the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

The 9 Fridas use the artwork of the disabled Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, as a lens to deconstruct her biography including her changing social positioning in terms of her disabled and feminist identities. The last play, Cosy, is a dark comedy exploring inevitable ageing and death.

Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure. Informed by the Social Model of Disability, they have the potential to enact a kind of activism and a change in public perceptions towards disabled people, previously shaped by negative representations in popular culture. Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors offers an entertaining and poetical insight into what is means to be human.


With thanks to Disability Arts Online. Please check out this essential website – http://disabilityarts.online – an important hub for discussion, reflection and engagement with disability arts and culture.

Atypical Plays Discount code from Oberon books available to DAO readers here

words, words, words – issues of translation and the wonders of skype

“A translation is no translation…. unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.”  Millington Synge

 It is an extraordinary time, of revisions, of translations, reconfigurations, of developments – of conversations on opposite sides of the world…

The past week has been a series of meetings on the ether as well as in what used to be called ‘meat space’. I spent three hours sitting in an office in Berlin listening to a reading in Mandarin of my performance text the 9 fridas which was happening seven hours into ‘my’ future in Taipei. Skype is a remarkable invention – and free! The actors from Mobius Strip in Taiwan thought I was probably eccentric. Did I speak Mandarin? No. Did I understand the language? No. So why spend three hours listening in as they read the scenes, and then painstakingly discussed the translation by the wonderful Betty Yi-Chun Chen?

As a playwright, I write dynamic. I write tempo-rhythm and linguistic movement. This is still discernible even through the vagaries and differences of other languages. I could tell Betty had paid great attention to the tempo-rhythm and flow of my work – and the very particular punctuation I use in my dialogue, to suggest a certain pace and musicality to the actor. This new performance text, the 9 fridas, is informed by our perceptions of the life and art of disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and has many monologues. I could tell in the reading, across the language divide, that the inherent pace, tempo-rhythm and fluidity of voice was as I had hoped.


Through listening in, I was able to clarify next steps and liaise with the director and designers about intentions, concepts, costume and set design. I was able to make notes for a few developments in the script whilst also getting to know, via the computer screen, some of the actors I’ll be working with when I go to Tawain in July to work on this production for the Taipei International Theatre Festival.

I continued the conversation several days later in a Greek restaurant in the southwest of Berlin, just down the road from the graveyard where Marlene Dietrich lies.

Ramona Mosse is a scholar and dramaturg currently translating my play ‘peeling’ into German. Among many things, we discussed how difficult the title is in German – the alternatives in tone and energy were very different from the original in English. The choices spanned from the more violent equivalent of being skinned or flayed to the more literal peeling of an onion, which is already used in a Gunter Grass title. We discussed the relationship of the title to the contents of the text and Ramona provided an alternative title which was more about ‘getting under the skin’ – an action which could be applied to what happens to the characters in the script as well as the hoped-for impact on the audience whilst experiencing the stories from the play.

“Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”   Paul Auster

Checklist when writing scenes…. 1.


I was giving some advice to a writer I’m mentoring on some essential elements to consider when revising a scene or planning to write – and thought it might be useful to share a few in a post. Further notes will follow:

IT HAPPENS IN THE PRESENT TENSE. Theatre is alive and happening before us in the moment. Even when recounting past events, the experiences are alive and impacting on the character NOW. Passivity in character, lack of dynamic and drive and exposition arises when events are being reported, or presented as mere information. Your characters should be engaged and active – but remember, even a thought can be action.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? The old chestnut…  What can each character lose or gain from the events and actions of the piece? In a character-driven script, there should be something important at risk, to make the events of the piece matter. If the stakes aren’t high enough, you’re not creating enough dramatic tension and an audience may think ‘so what?’

WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS WANT? Each character should be driven, the protagonist of their own lives (even if not the protagonist of the actual play). They should have very specific objectives, so ask what each wants. The answers should not be vague or abstract – ‘he wants love’, ‘she wants fulfilment’ – it should be precise and specific: ‘She wants to get her Mother’s letters back.’ These specific objectives in the moment will KEEP YOUR CHARACTER ACTIVE and the plot and action beating on. The charcater may also have a larger want, a super-objective, but be aware of what they want in each scene and moment – even if it is ‘to shut that bloody awful man up!’

This then impacts on TACTICS: WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS DO TO GET WHAT THEY WANT? If your character wants that bloody awful man to shut up, does she attack him, surprise him into silence with unexpected behaviour (a slap or a kiss?), drive him away with her own boredom, does she lie, charm, run away – what? Character is revealed through action and we can learn alot about the character through their interactions and the tactics they use to obtain what they want. This is also how a character grows and learns new skills. They try different approaches to obtain what they want, engaging the audience and also, depending on the challenge of the obstacles they have to overcome to get what they want, prove themselves as worthy protagonists/antagonists.

Through new behaviour and tactics, the character also CHANGES and change is essential in every moment of a script. Whether in dynamics, storyline, relationships, or characterisation, something must have CHANGED, so the end of each scene is different from how it began and we are aware of the MOVEMENT in the scene.

More notes on essential elements of scenes will follow…

Things I wish I’d known when starting out: the difference between a ‘sketch’ and a short play

I recently was acting as mentor for a group of emerging playwrights. I read individual sample scripts and fed back to them in one to one sessions on how to develop the work and identify the weaker elements that needed enhancing. I believe in the old adage ‘good writers work on their strengths, but great writers work on their weaknesses.’ When I’m in a similar position, getting feedback and responses to new work I’m developing, I far prefer to have what isn’t clear or not working pointed out to me than be soothed with compliments, and so assume the same of those who have sought out my opinion on their draft.

During the day of feedback, I kept hearing the same phrases coming out of my mouth. ‘This isn’t working as a short play; this isn’t drama per se.’ My lovely enthusiastic writers were putting in the hours, but as novices they were still unfamiliar with the basics.

Several chose to write what could be defined as ‘sketches’ – short, sometimes whimsical pieces that revealed an idiosyncrasy or linguistic misunderstanding, usually at the expense of one of the (invariably naïve) characters. Others were comedy sketches, complete with an imagined drumroll and sardonic ‘wah-wah-wah’.

Now, there is nothing wrong with writing sketches. They require skill, timing, good pace and tempo-rhythm and an often quirky, fresh way of viewing the world. The short pieces I was given to critique showed promise and potential, but the writers wanted to move on to longer, fuller length pieces, and this is where their inexperience showed. None felt confident they could ‘stretch’ their material to cover a longer time frame than ten minutes.

The pieces they were writing were ‘sketches’ as the material was ‘thin’ – they had ‘sketched in’ mouthpieces, comedy stereotypes to deliver the material, which only existed to serve the punch line. They hadn’t yet created complex, three-dimensional characters who could be imagined to exist beyond the given scenario. The locations were often generic: ‘a shop’ – but where? Windsor, Isle of Snark, Barbados, Llantwit Major…? And what kind of shop, serving what kind of people, with what kind of life experience, aspirations, hopes, fears, antipathies, fatal flaws, intricate pasts?

But what of the material itself, the nub of an idea that a short play might be built around? We discussed the necessity of selecting material carefully, and identifying what might be rich rather than ‘thin’.

Many years ago I was at a masterclass Arnold Wesker gave on playwriting and one piece of advice always stayed with me. He said we needed to understand the difference between an anecdote and dramatic material. An anecdote he identified as something we tell across a dinner table. It is specific and engaging, but is gone the moment it is told. The stuff of dramatic material is something less definable – it is identifying what can be made powerful on stage.

Distinguish between… material that is anecdotal and material which resonates, carries meaning into other people’s lives across time and frontiers.’

From ‘Wesker on Theatre.’ Arnold Wesker.

The participants said they’d go away and think more about this and to take time with dreaming, compiling, selecting and distinguishing different kinds of raw material and its potential, rather than settling for the first possibility which presented itself.

I wish them joy and good luck.