Tag Archives: Sheffield theatres

The Cruellest Cut

I have just seen one of the most exhilarating productions and inspiring participatory projects of recent years:

60 actors aged between 12 and 85 performing the work of 18 writers – from  Forced Entertainment’s Tim Etchells, to the Guardian’s Not the Booker winner Michael Stewart, to Third Angel’s Chris Thorpe, plus many new, emerging, and established dramatists in between. 20 Tiny Plays about Sheffield, directed by Andrew Loretto in the Sheffield Crucible Studio, is a triumph. Poignant and political, filled with satire, laughter, caged disco dancing and lyrical reminiscence, here is a city in dialogue with  itself, revelling in its diversity and the minutiae of experience.

Sheffield’s People’s theatre (SPT) was set up by Loretto over 18 months ago, and the entire run of this, its second production, sold out even before the cast list went up. The company’s first production, Richard Hurford’s Lives in Art was both a commercial and critical success, with Loretto’s production getting a 4 star review in the Guardian – the first time I have seen a full ‘community  production’ professionally and so successfully reviewed in the national press. This new production looks set to achieve the same accolades and links to today’s outstanding reviews are at the end of this post.

Amidst the celebration and pride at the achievement of the community company on press night (including actor Richard Wilson insisting on doing the rounds and congratulating each performer personally) there was a palpable sadness: this  production is the swansong of creative producer Andrew Loretto, whose post, it  was announced last week,  has just been made redundant. Many of the cast I spoke to are understandably angry and upset about this decision and also fearful for the future of community  engagement at the Theatre. As one of the actors said to me, ‘the drawbridge is about to go back up again.’

It’s a deeply depressing turn of events in what has been a major success story in developing new audiences and engagement in the arts. We all know what increasingly difficult times we inhabit and are probably  beginning to harden ourselves in preparation for the many cuts which will happen  across the board as money gets tighter. I don’t envy those whose job it is to make these decisions – they have a thankless task and will invariably be damned whatever they decide – although  this decision is particularly perplexing.

With the best will in the world Sheffield Theatres are promising delivery of future projects, but the overwhelming concern on press night was how this will be possible given the axing of its dedicated staff member responsible for community and learning. No new posts seem to be on the horizon and few can believe the work can simply be added to the already taxing demands on what is a popular and successful creative team. The hopes are that any funding for freelance workers to deliver the programme will be offered to Andrew Loretto, should he be available, so he may finish the work he initiated and secured  funding for. Only time will tell and many, including me, will be watching Sheffield Theatres anxiously to  see how this difficult situation will be played out.

For something very wonderful has been created in Sheffield with its People’s  Theatre, an initiative inspiring loyalty and regard, which is why I am  particularly pained at this turn of events after being involved  in 20 Tiny  Plays as a writer.

Some Sheffield Peoples Theatre actors

Some Sheffield Peoples Theatre actors

I sat in the auditorium the other night and saw a coterie of actors aged 12 to 76 collaborate on Shim Shams for Blind Hummer Bees, my 5 minute contribution to  this theatrical smorgasbord. I stood in the bar for hours afterwards talking to  the fantastic actors this project has brought together – passionate, funny and  concerned individuals, who feel something is about to be taken away from them  when it’s only been theirs for 18 months.

And it worries me. I am increasingly perturbed by the decisions being made in  this austerity climate. I know there will always be losers in the cruel game of  ‘cuts’ – but time and again I see the areas being culled are those for learning,  community engagement, and participation. I fear that the arts are being taken  away from us, moved from being an essential to a supplementary extra;  that  increasingly cultural activity and engagement is the first candidate for cuts. Engagement in the arts as consumers and creators should not be a luxury, with increasingly difficult access to all but the financially independent.  I feel we have to take a stand now we’re getting a sense in which direction the  wind is blowing. And it is getting chillier and chillier.


Reviews for 20 Tiny Plays about Sheffield:

20 Questions… Andrew Loretto

Continuing my series…. Twenty questions asked to creatives: actors, poets, screenwriters, directors, sculptors, live art exponents, burlesque performers, novelists, dramatists, and anyone else who seems interesting in between… My next interviewee is director Andrew Loretto, who I collaborated with recently on 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, which opens next week – and is already sold out….

20 Questions… Andrew Loretto.

Andrew Loretto  For the Crucible Theatre Andrew has directed premieres of Lives in Art by Richard Hurford and LeanerFasterStronger by Kaite O’Reilly –

Andrew Loretto outside the Sheffield Crucible Theatre

Andrew Loretto outside the Sheffield Crucible Theatre

part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. As Creative Producer for Sheffield Theatres, Andrew curated a range of projects with local artists including the Crucible 40th Birthday fortnight, Crucible Writers’ Nights nd Sheffield Sizzlers.

Previous credits include: Dramaturg for Company Chameleon’s Gameshow; Artistic Director, Chol Theatre (2006-2010) – Beast Market (shortlisted for Huddersfield Examiner/Arts Council England Arts Award 2008), Space Circus (shortlisted for Brian Way Award 2009), Not For All the Tea in China (BBC2 Glastonbury highlights); International Young Makers Exchange; Sherman Theatre; Pilot Theatre; National Theatre Studio; Plymouth Theatre Royal; West Lothian Youth Theatre; Ulster Association of Youth Drama; Artistic Director, Theatre in the Mill, Bradford (1999-2003) and National Student Drama Festival (2003-2006).

What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

Getting involved with extra-curricular music activities at school in Holywood, N.Ireland. Music fired up a passion for performing and making art; getting involved with school plays led on from that. To this day live music plays a big part in my theatre work where possible. Arts provision in schools is SO vital.

What was your big breakthrough?

To be honest, I don’t actually feel the breakthrough has happened yet! My career has been a slowly evolving one – but always with a focus on new work, multi-artform and creating opportunities for both experienced theatre artists and first-timers alike – of all ages.

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

I guess I’m always asking organisations and individuals to take a risk on realising big ideas that can challenge the notions of what theatre is and what it can do. So in many ways that’s one of the biggest challenges – overcoming fear and/or set ways of thinking and being brave enough to forge on despite any reservations that might exist! The key is to bring on board like-minded collaborators, so that you’re not on your own.

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

No – but I am influenced in infinitesimal ways by art in all its forms and by real life.

What’s more important: form or content?

I’ll give the politician’s answer: this really depends on the project – some pieces are led by form, whereas for others the content defines the form, and some projects have a mixture of both as prime motivator. They exist simultaneously as one in my head. It’s like asking what’s more important to make up a human being: a body or a soul?

How do you know when a project is finished?

A project never finishes. But alas we have defined production and performance dates and the money only pays for so much!

Do you read your reviews?

Yes. I don’t believe people who say they don’t. However I do absolutely understand and respect that some actors don’t like to read reviews whilst they’re still in a show.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Get together with like-minded collaborators as much as you can and make your own work. Go and see as much as possible – there are lots of ways (especially for young people) that you can get cheap tickets for theatre. Do your research. Don’t leave it until your final year at university/college. Be polite to everyone – colleagues on your course will be future artistic directors/literary managers.

What work of art would you most like to own?

I fancy Tate Modern. All of it. I’d convert the top floor into a bijou city-living residence, the oil tanks could be dedicated rehearsal and performance spaces to make new work with lots of people. We’d have lots of people’s parties in the Turbine Hall. Can I apply for Grants for the Arts funding for this?

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

That a writer sits in her/his own room as a tragic, isolated tortured soul. Rubbish: the writer is part of a collaborative process – if you don’t want to be part of a team, realising a live performance together, then theatre isn’t for you. That’s not to say that there isn’t an element of tortured isolation PRIOR to rehearsals though…

What are you working on now?

Andrew in rehearsals for 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, 2013.

Andrew in rehearsals for 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, 2013.

I’m about to go into production week for 20 Tiny Plays about Sheffield – a massive project with a cast of 60 actors aged 12-85, performing 20 short plays – all of different genres about perceptions of Sheffield  in the 21st Century. The show runs at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield from 8-13 April 2013 and has been fully sold-out for quite some time! We’re having to put in an extra public dress rehearsal so that people can see it. The 18 writers for the project are: Andrew McMillan, Andrew Thompson, Chris Bush, Chris Thorpe, DC Moore, Helen Eastman, Kaite O’Reily, Laurence Peacock, Louise Wallwein, Marcia Layne, Michael Stewart, Pete Goodland, Richard Hurford, Russell Hepplewhite, Sally Goldsmith, Stephanie Street, Tim Etchells, Tom Lodge.

’20 tiny Plays about Sheffield’ is the second production from Sheffield People’s Theatre – which I set up in 2011 for its first production ‘Lives in Art’ by Richard Hurford – achieving critical acclaim in the national press. I’m delighted that Sheffield People’s Theatre has since been awarded funding from Esmee Fairbairn foundation to develop its programme of work – of which ‘20 Tiny Plays’ is the first project to be supported. We’ve also got a Pearson Playwright bursary to support young Sheffield writer Chris Bush as part of the project and his year-long attachment to Sheffield Theatres. Chris’s work first came to our attention through the Crucible Writers’ Nights I’ve been curating over the past couple of years. Link to show:  http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/20-tiny-plays-about-sheffield-13/

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

I loved the recent production of ‘Constellations’ – design, writing, performances, movement and direction all knitting together seamlessly. Lucy Cullingford, the movement director on the show, is one of my regular collaborators – it was a brilliant showcase for her precise, detailed and nuanced work.

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

That I am just as entitled to have my voice heard at cultural tables as the posh Oxbridge boys and girls. Being a Celt, my default position is the ‘cultural cringe’.  

What’s your greatest ambition?

I’d love to get full eyesight back in my right eye (lost as the result of a violent attack in 2006) but I don’t think technology will evolve that quickly in my lifetime.

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

Surround yourself with good friends and confidantes – stay in touch with people. Invest in those friendships, give more than you receive. And make sure they’re not all involved in the arts!

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

Oh, I have fabulously bad review about the first full-length play I wrote. The reviewer was in a foul mood on the night he came to see the show – and I think my play just made him worse. I truly treasure it – it’s one of those reviews that seemingly starts off well, then the first cut is made. The knife plunges in and there’s a final twist at the end, leaving the entrails of the play steaming on the floor. Yep, one of THOSE reviews. Classic. I bumped into the reviewer at a Christmas party – he happily told me that the play in question was his single worst theatre experience that year. I’m happy to please.

And the best thing?

Oh it’s the personal testimonies from people who have been touched by seeing a show or by taking part as a participant and seeing how involvement with theatre projects can – literally – transform people’s lives.

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

I guess this is a cliché, but being a director is being like a mother: you conceive the baby, give birth to it, nourish, cherish and want the best for the baby as it grows into a young person, then a rebellious teenager. Then finally you have to let your baby go out into the world on its own as an adult – very often with little thanks for all the work you did other than the occasional card or phone call. That’s what directing new work can feel like!

What is your philosophy or life motto?

How do you want to live your life? (actually I stole that from my good friend Carri Munn, but it has stuck with me.)

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

That the majority of people in the arts are generous and kind. A minority are not so – and that’s often down to insecurities and fears. Focus on the majority.

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

Age 17. Edinburgh.

Olympic Questions: Further responses to LeanerFasterStronger






Kathryn Dimery. Photo by Amanda Crowther

We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?

When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest  in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.

Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.

The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.

The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:

‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’

the poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:

‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’






Ben Addis. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’

playwright Richard Hurford wrote on the Guardian theatre blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/jun/01/stage-reader-reviews-georgie-sinatra?INTCMP=SRCH

For me LeanerFasterStronger was a powerful and refreshing example of theatre which not only has something genuinely important to say, but also cares enough about its subject matter to say it in a direct and uncompromising way.

I’m no sports expert and I know little about biotechnology, but like everyone else I’m currently experiencing what it’s like to live in an Olympics host nation. The play rises above the hype, the hard sell and the emotional aerobics to offer a welcome, provocative perspective on the bigger picture. It’s no easy ride and you have to work hard to keep up, which feels appropriate given the themes of the piece. The text is sophisticated, witty and fierce and keeps on throwing out ideas at a relentless pace. However, it’s always accessible and illuminating and not about trying to beat an audience into submission. Rather it’s about encouraging us to keep on pushing forward to consider what actually lies beyond the finishing line, not just for the sporting life, but also for the human race.

The production sticks to the courage of its convictions by placing the text firmly at the centre, intelligently and subtly supported and enhanced by the other theatrical elements to create an effective unity. The moments when the full on debates are invaded by emotionally charged fragments of athletes’ lives -particularly the exchanges between the brother and sister torn apart by the demands of his all-consuming talent – are startling and disturbing. Throughout there’s a sustained and detailed physical underscoring, which at times bursts into the foreground with explosions of intense physical exertion, suddenly thrusting the close-up spectacle of bodies sweating and muscles straining into the faces of the audience.

The theatrical container of a sports conference and specifically the late night boozy discussions of a clutch of delegates from different sports sectors – importantly none of them are athletes and only the hanger-on boyfriend of one of the women seems to participate in any actual sporting activity – provides a clever vehicle to raise and wrangle over the issues on an informed and expert level. It had all the feel of one of those councils of the gods which regularly crop up in Greek myths in which the immortals bicker, throw tantrums and settle personal scores, while casually deciding the fates of humankind with lofty and chilling disdain. Like those immortals the sports delegates have little connection and less interest in what really happens down on the ground, in the stadia, boxing rings, locker rooms, lives and minds of the athletes whose fates and futures they’re shaping over another bottle of wine.

LeanerFasteStronger treats its audience with respect, while insisting we do our bit too. Theatre can engage us through the stories and the experiences of characters, but there’s also a place for plain-speaking. This is one of those occasions and the approach works for the complexity of the subject matter. Some might be tempted by a more conventional dramatic development of the athletes’ stories, but I appreciated the fact that the play kept leading me back to the debate and kept me focused on the ideas rather than lost in the drama.

I really value theatre which leaves me with something I can use in the real world and this is a seriously useful piece of work. As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger.’








Morven Macbeth. Photo by Amanda Crowther

Many people, including Jane Lloyd Francis, have commented on how they feel the issues in the play will have more relevance after the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

I was honoured when Paralympians Steve Judd and Suzannah Rockett Coughlan attended the performance. They were involved in my research  (see earlier blog: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/leanerfasterstronger-a-week-of-olympians-and-paralympians/).

In an email after the show Suzannah said:

It was such an intense play with almost every possible emotion I have had in relation to my sport.
I must confess I found the scene regarding the end of ones career  particularly poignant, as this is an area the public rarely see or to be honest care about as the next star is ready to replace them. Also the family scene was significant and again an area which is rarely touched upon.






Christopher Simpson. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

Such an honest and engaged response from an elite athlete is humbling as well as gratifying, for through Suzannah’s response I know I have achieved one of my intentions. I sought to tell less familiar stories around sport which revealed the particular stresses of being the national hope for gold.

I will continue reviewing the process, script, production, and response over the coming days and weeks, and give sincere thanks to those who have taken the time and effort to enter this dialogue between spectacle and spectator.

Finally, some thoughts from Julie Armstrong, who reviewed the show for the Sheffield Telegraph:

Sheffield Telegraph, Thursday May 31, 2012  Julia Armstrong

A STRIKING tableau greets the audience as they enter the auditorium, with the four actors striking sporting poses while balancing on stage blocks. This is the shape of things to come as the actors combine fluidity of movement, including rearranging the performance space, with words that move fast through various scenarios. The actors take on different roles to explore issues of what sacrifices elite sportspeople and their loved ones make, at how pure sport really is in our money-driven world and at how technologies could affect sporting achievement and all of our lives.

As part of the city’s contribution to the artistic response to the London 2012 Olympics, Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a beautifully written and timely examination of issues that have far-reaching consequences beyond the sporting arena, perhaps even as to what it will mean to be human in the future. This is a chilling prospect as she says in her programme notes that she has been looking at the future of real elite sport science.

On a more intimate level, the actors Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson perform compellingly as individuals and a team to look at what all this means for the people involved, from the athlete whose sister says his pursuit of his Olympic dream has damaged their whole family to the boxer who constantly pushes mind and body to the limit. A smooth-talking sports promoter hangs around in the background like a vulture assured of a next easy meal, ready to drop a star who is past their best.

Ouch! podcast: Is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

LeanerFasterStronger: is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

From  http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2012/05/leanerfasterstronger

Disabled playwright and author Kaite O’Reilly, who is one of the guests on the next edition of Ouch!’s disability talk show (due online towards the end of May), was approached by Chol Theatre to write a play about sport and the human experience as part of imove, Yorkshire’s cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympics. The resulting play, LeanerFasterStronger, opens at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio theatre today, Wednesday 23 May, and runs through to Saturday 2 June.

For background research, Kaite carried out detailed interviews with scientists and elite sportspeople, and also experimented in motion capture labs – where disabled and non-disabled performers saw their bodies moving as a sequence of animated dots which she says were “freed from the preconceptions that go along with viewing the same body moving in the real world”.

She became very interested in genetic and bio-engineering of humans as a species – even the idea of a ‘cyborg’.

In this guest post for Ouch!, Kaite O’Reilly looks at how this emerging science could influence the possible future of both disabled and non-disabled elite sport – which is also the focus for her play, LeanerFasterStronger.

Will we ever reach the point where impairments are ‘cured’, or ‘fixed’ in vitro? People have asked me about my stance on these developments and, as someone who culturally identifies as a disabled person and a disability artist, I know well how complex and emotive the subject can be. Yet in the context of elite sport – and the fictional world of the play I have written – other avenues open up.

As the strapline for the show goes: How far would you go to be the best? Cheat? Dope? Enhance yourself biologically to be LeanerFasterStronger than your competitors? The reality is that we may fast be approaching a glass ceiling about what humans can ‘naturally’ achieve. Elite sport is big business, and the play asks whether we can expect to continue breaking records and ‘improving’ every year without a little ‘help’?

In the 1980s, women’s athletics went through a golden period when phenomenal records were set. Decades on, those records have not been matched or beaten. The turnaround came with the introduction of dope testing. Since those (cheating?) halcyon days, women’s athletics have apparently slipped down the scale in popularity. In athletics, it seems that spectators want a spectacle, to be inspired and excited. Watching people fail to come anywhere near a world record set thirty years ago just doesn’t cut it.

There is an argument that sport tests what is possible for humans to do – it favours the ‘Übermensch’ – the idealised, ‘perfect’ human being. The commercial side of sport is reliant on new records being broken, showing more thrills and spectacle, to keep the fans involved. Various sports journalists I spoke with while researching the play said that the real excitement and focus in 2012 will be on the Paralympics. Coverage of Oscar Pistorius and his carbon ‘blades’ fills many column inches, and he has become a poster-boy for the future – the next exciting development in sport.

This then offered a perspective to me: what if, in the future, the ‘ideal’ athlete is one who has impairments and who can benefit from the speed of Pistorius, ‘the fastest man in the world on no legs’ as the New York Times described him? Developments in wheelchair racing and cycling have the bone inserting directly into the frame – ‘bone melding with steel’. LeanerFasterStronger asks whether, for a spectacle-seeking audience, the future ultimate sportsperson may in fact be a disabled one.

Press night, workshops, debate.








KOR outside The Crucible Theatre on LeanerFasterStronger press night.

Press nights are a particularly theatrical tradition. It’s when the production officially opens, the critics come, and the company parties like there’s no performance tomorrow, invariably ending up dancing in cages in dodgy nightclubs as the dawn threatens to rise.

I think the party element was originally introduced as a distraction, a way of filling the hours before the early newspapers hit the stands and the company breakfasted with the reviews. Those days have long gone and we have to be more patient. We still await the newspaper reviews and so far I have only seen a favourable critique by Jo Verrent for Disability Arts Online:

” The performances were great and the level of ideas presented was complex and fascinating… Kaite’s work is always rich in language, tone and concept…LeanerFasterStronger presents a fascinating glimpse into a brave new world. It certainly provides plenty of food for thought. So go and get your mind enhanced!”

For the full review go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1748

I was unable to join in the 4am ironic cage dancing in Sheffield’s finest dodgy clubs, as I was teaching a workshop at Sheffield Theatres the next morning. As part of being one of the writers at Sheffield theatres this season, I’m facilitating various events – a play reading later today of an earlier play of mine, Belonging – and a workshop at the Lyceum Theatre tomorrow:

Taking the Dramatic temperature of your Script. Tuesday 29 May 2012. 6-9pm.

A practical checklist for effective and dynamic drama: tension, pace, plot, and emotional engagement. Led by multiple award-winning writer of this season’s LeanerFasterStronger, Kaite O’Reilly.


I’m also part of a debate on new writing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Wednesday 30th May: Is it time to get rid of new writing?


I think it’s fantastic when one of the season’s produced playwrights is also involved in the educational outreach work of a theatre. My Saturday workshop included teachers, students, a young in career playwright, and professional director and performers. It was wonderful to be working together in the rehearsal room of the Crucible, allowing a true meeting of audience and writer, current theatre practitioner and the future generation… It’ something I love doing and feel that theatres don’t do enough. When we parted at the end of the workshop, several of the participants went off to buy their tickets to see the production, later. How often do you have the opportunity to be taught by the playwright whose work you’re seeing that evening? It’s a great initiative, and very typical of Creative Producer Andrew Loretto’s ethos – to open the doors of theatres and allow more access.

LeanerFasterStronger runs at the Crucible studio until the end of this week, with a matinee on Thursday 31st and Saturday 2nd June at 2.15pm and the evening performances at 7.45pm.


LeanerFasterStronger: The joys of tech’… 48 hours to opening.

Christopher Simpson in designer  Shanaz Gulzar’s floor projection.

It’s technical rehearsal in Sheffield Crucible Studio for LeanerStrongerFaster… A magical time, when all the individual elements which make a production all start coming together.

The devil in the detail…Movement advisor Lucy Cullingford demonstrates a last minute alteration to actor Morven Macbeth.

This is the very first time all the different strata – the text, the action, the lighting, the video projections, the physical scores, soundscape and musical composition have been layered and brought together. It’s also the first time I have got a sense of what this performance may be – the jigsaw is being pieced together – and it’s an incredibly exciting and gratifying time.

Designer and video artist Shanaz Gulzar in tech’.

Technical rehearsals are notorious… If things go wrong, they can be hellish experiences sapping the energy out of the full company. But if they go right…. The relaxed, smiling image of our designer and video artist, Shanaz Gulzar, tells the full story. The crew work fantastically together, the actors are eager, focussed and full of energy, and the day passes with a surprising amount of pleasure.

The cast and background lights from the crew.

By 10pm when we call it a day, I have a sense of the extraordinary complexity in Andrew Loretto’s production. He has set us off on separate but joined creative paths – me initially writing the script and trying to imagine the world of this immersive theatre experience –  Shanaz making her wonderful video projections – Shane Durrant creating an environmental soundscape and original composition – Gary Longfield painting with lights…. The actors have made their own in-depth explorations, discoveries and interpretations – but one person, Andrew as director, has been holding this all together in his imagination.

Ben Addis and projection.

Tomorrow (it’s past midnight…later today) we complete the tech’ and present the work for the first time in a public dress rehearsal. It will be exhilarating to try it out in front of an audience – and I can’t wait.


A Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre Co-Production

Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June 2012 http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/



Shanaz Gulzar


Gary Longfield

Lighting Designer

Shane Durrant

Composer and Sound Designer



All photographs taken by Kaite O’Reilly in technical rehearsal at Sheffield Theatres. Copyright 22nd May 2012.

Lyn Gardner’s Guardian preview and Pick of the Week for LeanerFasterStronger


Delighted to see the following from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian Guide 19th May:


John Simm in Pinter’s Betrayal (to 9 Jun) in the main house may be getting all the attention, but Kaite O’Reilly’s play in the Crucible Studio feels very much like a play for today. In fact, with the country gearing up for the Olympics, its emphasis on the pursuit of gold and always being the best is particularly pertinent. It examines whether there’s a cost associated with the pursuit of excellence, and what “the best” means in a world of smart drugs, designer babies and genetic modifications. O’Reilly is a writer to cherish who should be more widely known, and this show promises to offer deeper insights around science, enhancement and what it really means to be human.

Crucible Studio, Wed to 2 Jun

Lyn Gardner


LeanerFasterStronger: Researching a role: writer Kaite O’Reilly’s and performer Morven Macbeth’s perspectives.








The wonderful Olga Korbut. 

Two perspectives on researching a role: Playwright Kaite O’Reilly and performer Morven Macbeth:

Kaite O’Reilly writes:

Olga Korbut. 1972. I was too young to really appreciate the radical impact she had on gymnastics, winning four gold medals and two silver, performing dangerous leaps and flips never before presented in competition; yet I think she was in the back of my mind when I decided to write a gymnast character in LeanerFasterStronger.

The character, called simply Gymnast, is not Olga Korbut, nor any of the athletes I interviewed or researched. Rather, she is a composite, with added imagination run wild.

Of all the sportspeople I interviewed when writing the play, the gymnasts left the longest lasting impression. It is partly to do with the concentration, the focus, the maturity, and the daily passing through the pain threshold from an early age which perturbed and tantalised, adding substance, even gravitas to such slender, slight forms. All gymnasts I spoke with had grace and eloquence, and an unusual understanding of the body, its functions and how to surpass its apparent limitations. They also seemed astonishingly light – not just with the weightlessness with which they seemed to pass through the world, but in their energy, how they conversed, in their smiles. I found the juxtaposition of this lightness with a close but detached scrutiny of their bodies – as though they were ‘stepped out of them’ – fascinating and disturbing.

When I’m creating work that is researched and not fully from my imagination, I allow myself to respond to the stimulus around me. I won’t reproduce interviewees’ stories (this is problematic for me when I am credited as the writer of a fiction), but I allow whatever impacted or impressed itself on me to find its way through in the character’s language. It’s about perception and perspective – how these different creatures view the world, and themselves in it. This starts creating a world-view I can then individualise and make specific to that invented character.

Character is revealed in scripts through language and vocabulary, through action and interaction, by what others in the world of the play say about the figure, or how they react to them. I write a blueprint, an outline for the actor to fill, something which I hope is rich with clues and guidance on how to approach this particular individual – but it is then down to the actor to give the invention breath, and step into that skin.

Morven Macbeth writes:

One of the 3 characters I play in LFS is simply called ‘Gymnast’.  She has some of my favourite lines in the whole script but I was very aware of my need to do some focussed research on this one!

Scottish gymnast Louise Mearns very kindly agreed to meet me for a coffee to talk about her passion, what inspired her to begin gymnastics and how she feels, what she experiences now as a young woman still taking part in the sport having switched aged 13 from Artistic Gymnastics to competing in TeamGym.

What got her started was a combination of watching gymnastics on the telly, her brother’s physiotherapy sessions as child with cerebral palsy and her own love of ballet and tap dancing.  Louise said that she ‘begged’ her parents to let her try gymnastics.

We talked, myself, Louise and her boyfriend Kenney Collins (also a gymnast) for nearly two hours and certain things really stand out for me as I go through the pages of notes I scribbled down as we talked:








A Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre Co-Production

Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June 2012 http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

LeanerFasterStronger, a week to opening: interviews and vox pop.








Kaite O’Reilly, Dr Dave James and Andrew Loretto.

It’s a week now until the public dress rehearsal of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Theatre’s Crucible Studio, and so preparations and publicity are stepping up. The Sheffield press have been delighted to discover I’m a graduate of the University, and there is some satisfaction in returning to the city and the theatre I attended frequently as a student, with my own production.

imove have produced some trailers for the project, short vox pops with director Andrew, co-producers Susan Burns and Dr Dave James, and myself. Please click on the following links for short videos on the production, from very different perspectives:

Kaite O’Reilly: http://vimeo.com/34130135
Andrew Loretto:  http://vimeo.com/34131024
Susan & Dave: http://vimeo.com/34127106

In certain contexts, I believe it’s important for the playwright to be around early in the rehearsal process to address any issues or queries with the script, but then to withdraw, and allow the company to make the work their own. In previous productions I’ve felt my presence in the room has thrown too long a shadow – the cast have wanted to please me and my notions of who the characters might be rather than freely discover their own interpretations. It’s time, then, to go. Unless we’re following a different process of continual co-creating, I will usually leave rehearsals during the second week of rehearsals, returning in production week with fresh eyes to respond to the work.

With the fantastic LeanerFasterStronger ensemble we have had a different dynamic, as from day one the cast’s ideas have impacted on the final revisions of the script. I saw a ‘stagger through’ on day nine of rehearsals before departing. I’m returning later this week to see a run, and am incredibly excited about seeing the work after a week. All the feedback from the rehearsal floor has been overwhelmingly positive, and I can’t wait to experience the work with the added layers of  Shanaz’s video projections and design, and Shane’s soundtrack.

Opening up the rehearsal process. Guest blog by LFS director Andrew Loretto








A guest blog by director and Sheffield Theatres Creative producer Andrew Loretto, written on Saturday 5 May 2012: 

And here we are at the end of week 2 of rehearsals for the Sheffield Theatres/Chol Theatre co-production of the world premiere of LeanerFasterStronger by Kaite O’Reilly. Time has flown by in the rehearsal room, but so much has been achieved – including a rough stagger run on day 9.

The project has been an extraordinary two-year journey of collaborative research and discovery – and my aim now as director is to condense and continue this journey in rehearsals whilst also doing everything we can to realise a bold and vibrant staging of this remarkable new piece of writing, owned by all the artists involved. I want our Sheffield audiences to be thrilled, provoked and caught up in the rapid-fire sweep of the play’s arguments.

Having Kaite in rehearsals for the first two weeks has proved invaluable in terms of tackling nitty-gritty textual and contextual questions to help me, the cast and our designers achieve a shared understanding of the many worlds of the play. It has also been helpful for me to share physical and vocal thoughts on the floor with Kaite so that she can see the choices we are making and – crucially for a first staging – be part of those choices. One of the reasons I love directing new work is the joy of having the writer in the rehearsal room – that sense of taking collective creative steps into the unknown for the first time. It is both thrilling and daunting, but as director I place my trust in a wonderfully talented team who I know will get us to our destination.

Alongside interrogation of text, character, setting, emotion and logic, we are also constantly playing with the physical language of the play in response to Shanaz Gulzar’s intimate in-the-round design of video projections that interact with building blocks that can be constructed in various permutations – rather like an oversized child’s play set. I’m keen that we don’t try to literally show sporting sequences on stage. We are not trained, expert sportspeople, but rather a bunch of artists interpreting the essence of the athletes for our audiences. I also feel that a naturalistic physical language would not serve the post-dramatic nature of Kaite’s writing. So we have been playing with various conventions based on broken down scores, shared by all of the performers and interacting with the geometric shapes created by the dispersed set blocks. I have also been playing with the notion that an athlete is still when speaking to us whilst the movement happens elsewhere. This produces the sensation of the athlete being the external observer of him or herself. This serves the text well and helps the audience’s understanding of the thought processes of the athletes we encounter in the play.

We have a wonderful, intelligent and creative team of four actors – each brings generosity, enquiry and complementary skills to the process. My job is to get the cast to a place of embodying the same physical language whilst also celebrating their individuality. With this in mind, and based on the discoveries from rehearsals, our Movement Adviser Lucy Cullingford is charged with empowering the company with a choreographic language that we all understand and can use at various points on the play.

One of my driving forces for making theatre is how we can open up and make opportunities of excellence for others – it flows through all of my work, whether making a large-scale production with an eighty-strong cast of 12-85 year olds for Sheffield People’s Theatre, enabling a student company to tour work to international festivals, or opening up Sheffield Theatres’ spaces to local musicians, comedians, dancers and cabaret artists through the Sheffield Sizzler. It doesn’t matter to me what the scale, level or form of project is, we must find ways of opening up our processes and providing opportunities for others to learn, develop and show their own creative skills.

With this in mind, from the outset LeanerFasterStronger has been designed to carry a range of pedagogical opportunities, including multi-media workshops for local schools led by Chol Theatre, writing workshops and a facilitated play-reading with Kaite and post-show discussion with the company. We are also providing opportunities for members of Sheffield People’s Theatre to work with our cast and become involved in elements of performance as ‘supernumeraries’ (a new term for me). In my role as Sheffield Theatres’ Creative Producer I have been curating a season of workshop opportunities for students reading Theatre Studies at the University of Sheffield School of English. And so I arranged that their final workshop would interface with our rehearsal process.

This is, to my knowledge, unusual in mainstream British theatre practice. The rehearsal room is generally held up as the holiest of holies, not to be disturbed on any account and only accessible to those people most closely involved with the process. And yet we strive (or ought to strive in the publicly funded sector) to provide access to most aspects of theatre-making these days. So why not also the core of making theatre – the working rehearsal room? In the case of LeanerFasterStronger, I not only wanted to provide a workshop based on our process for the students, I wanted to lead a workshop that interfaced with an active actual rehearsal whereby the students would be making discoveries with the cast for the first time.

So it was today that our fabulous company of Morven Macbeth, Christopher Simpson, Ben Addis and Kathryn Dimery were joined temporarily by an extended ‘cast’ comprised of first, second and third year students Amy, Matt, Sarah, Esie, Jade, Naomi and Natasha. Together we were taken through a journey of ‘Viewpointing’ by Lucy, whereby we developed an improvised but highly detailed approach to interacting with the space, set and gestures related to the play. Combined with narrative, character and scenario parameters I set, we jointly developed a rich palette of physical choices that were full of pathos, optimism, moments lived, savoured and lost. The students approached Lucy and my collaborative approach to making work with open minds, focus and great humanity. Until this point our cast had worked as a team of four. Now they were fully able to be observer/participants and step back to observe the bigger physical picture. This was highly empowering and encouraging for the actors – who could see properly for the first time how the physicality of the play would work. Not only that, but the students were excited by the prospect that their ideas would feed into our process – and all of them were keen to come and see the show by close of play.

This got me thinking: why shouldn’t we open up all our rehearsal processes to local students? There cannot be a single creative process from which an aspect cannot be extracted to draw a line of genuine enquiry that can then be explored with students and cast together. Do it – as we did – in week 2. Enough time for the cast to have bonded and know the world of the play, but not too late for things to be set, and there still to be big questions to explore. And not at the delicate, later, highly focused and sometimes high-stakes stages of rehearsal.

Go on theatre directors – particularly those of you in the subsidised sector – plan for it in your schedules. And if facilitating workshops isn’t your forte, talk to your assistant director (if you have one) or a member of the venue’s creative development team. Do it now. What’s your excuse? If in doubt, here’s an extract from an email I received whilst writing this blog from a first year student who took part in our rehearsal:

 “I want to say a big thank you to you and your team for letting us step into rehearsals for the day. How refreshing it was to try something different in such a friendly and warm environment! Getting to do work with professionals was also a tad mind blowing! I found the work you were doing really different to all the training I’ve done in the past.”


LeanerFasterStronger runs at Sheffield Theatres:  Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June  http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

Dramatic Structure – Raising the Stakes. Sat 26 May

Make high tension stories that really matter! Learn how to shape plays that will have an impact on your audience and make them care about your characters. Led by Kaite O’Reilly, award-winning writer of LeanerFasterStronger.


Taking the dramatic temperature of your script. Tuesday 29 May.     A practical checklist for effective and dynamic drama: tension, pace, plot, and emotional engagement. Led by multiple award-winning writer of this season’s LeanerFasterStrongerKaite O’Reillyhttp://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/taking-the-dramatic-temperature-of-your-script/