Tag Archives: The Guardian

peeling reviews and unpeeling process

Taking Flight production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

It’s been a week of peeling and unpeeling…. My play peeling headed off on tour in Taking Flight Theatre Company’s commended production, while performer and maker Gemma Prangle and I started unpeeling the creative process as part of her professional development from Arts Council England.

It was a few days of experiment for Gemma as I set her various writing tasks, working across a wide spectrum of styles including stimulating text to generate movement and physical scores. Phillip Zarrilli gave some vocal exercises and directorial advice as we workshopped Gemma’s starting points. I love this kind of work, where I’m part-dramaturg, part-tutor and part-mentor, and especially when, as in this case, the fruits of the explorations are exciting and filled with promise. I sent Gemma off with a series of further exercises to continue developing her considerable writing skills. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to create next.

During the excitement of exploration in the studio this week, there was also the excited gratification of positive critical responses to Elise Davison’s new production of peeling.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a playwright is the privilege of seeing other imaginations at work on your creative impulses. For Taking Flight’s new manifestation, I updated my script, not the first time I have revised the text. The play was originally written in 2002 for Jenny Sealey and Graeae, remounted in 2003 for Edinburgh and a European tour. I adapted it for BBC Radio 3 in the same year, co-directed by David Hunter and Jenny Sealey. A further production (Kirstie Davis for Forest Forge Theatre company) toured nationally in 2011, and there has been countless rehearsed readings in the US. Although I feel immensely privileged in having such a positive response to what in effect is an old play, I am also saddened that the issues of conflict, women’s autonomy over their own bodies and the problematic representation of difference in our theatres are as relevant as ever. When I set out on writing this play at the start of the new century and millennium, I never thought it would take so long for equality and diversity to reach our stages, if not our societies. The continued and increased interest in this play, particularly for its use of creative access, and the way I embedded audio description and sections of bilingualism (spoken/visual/projected language) into the fabric of the script, is therefore bitter-sweet. However, I congratulate Elise Davison and Beth House of Taking Flight and all the brilliant women whose talent, imagination and determination have brought this “fierce and funny” production to new audiences now.

The Guardian and The Stage reviews follow:

Ruth Curtis in Taking Flight’s production of ‘peeling’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Janire Najera

Fierce and funny trio storm the stage in vulva gowns – 4 stars. The Guardian review.

Alfa, Beaty and Coral are three deaf and disabled performers taking part in the chorus of a grandly titled four-hour postmodern epic, The Trojan Women: Then and Now. We watch while they sit and wait for their cues, talking, gossiping and exchanging confidences. Paused in the shadows while the “real actors continue with the real play”, they are defined and limited by the actions and designs of men, who are always offstage, elsewhere.

Elise Davison’s revival of Kaite O’Reilly’s play, originally staged in 2002, is fiercely clever and uncompromising. It packs in far more rhetorical audacity, theatrical richness and complexity of ideas than its 90-minute length would suggest. Often scathingly funny, Peeling is an accessible production that provocatively questions what is being made accessible, for whom and how. Who benefits from including a deaf and disabled ensemble, if the dressing rooms are inaccessible?

Initially appearing in vulva-embroidered ball gowns, designed by Becky Davies and made by Angharad Gamble, the actors Bea Webster, Ruth Curtis and Steph Lacey remain onstage throughout. They are shadowed by Erin Hutching as the stage manager who translates the trio’s spoken dialogue into British Sign Language. The dresses in turn are removed, but the peeling of the title also alludes to other forms of disrobing: of character, theatrical conventions, of the personal and societal expectations of disabled women. Towards its conclusion, one senses that history itself is also unravelling. We are brought to our current historical moment, laden with horrors. The grandiose “then and now” appears to be depressingly apt.

Produced by Taking Flight Theatre, who have been staging accessible productions in Wales for 10 years, Peeling is a show that insists it be viewed on its own terms. The peeling is not for your titillation. It sticks a middle finger up at paternalistic and woolly tick-box exercises in representation and inclusivity. Accessible theatre? Do it properly, it demands. Do it like this.

Bea Webster, Erin Hutching and Stephie Lacey in Taking Flight’s production of Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘peeling’. Photo: Janire Najera

‘Thought provoking and entertaining’ – 4 stars. The stage review

After 10 years of creating outdoor plays involving D/deaf and physically disabled actors (performing in spaces as unlikely as woodland and castles), Taking Flight Theatre finally goes indoors with this new version of Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, embarking on a national theatre tour.

First performed in 2002 by Graeae, it’s a play within a play. Alfa (Bea Webster), Beaty (Ruth Curtis) and Coral (Steph Lacey) are three actors hovering backstage during a postmodern version of The Trojan Women: Then and Now. Cajoled by an irritable stage manager (Erin Hutching, also BSL-signing), the world-weary trio is convinced they’ve only been employed to tick the ‘disability box’ and to add weight to the equal opportunities monitoring form. They yearn to be an Andromache or Hecuba, each able to recite those character’s soliloquies – all while waiting to deliver their own minimal lines.

O’Reilly is an extraordinarily poetic playwright who specialises in contemporising Greek theatre, so the Trojan Women backdrop here allows her to explore epic themes of war from a feminist standpoint. Yet it’s her more earthy, acerbic wit that hits the notes best in Elise Davison’s confident production. Subjects as trivial as celebrity gossip vie with deeply poignant questions about choice for disabled women, around their own bodies and children.

It’s challenging, but also entertaining. The action is BSL-signed and audio-described throughout, all as a natural part of the onstage action, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the strong cast to send up theatre’s right-on but sometimes cursory attitude towards D/deaf and disabled talent.

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I’m going on tour with the company on two dates this month, with a post-show discussion at Theatr Clwyd on 19th March and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 26th March, where I believe David Rabey will be chairing the Q&A. The production will continue to tour Wales, Manchester and Oxford this Spring, with a tour of England planned for the autumn. Further details from Taking Flight.

The playwright is leaving the building…. embracing diversity and challenging normalcy

 

Sharon Morgan, Ruth Lloyd and Ri Richards in 'Cosy' rehearsals. Image: Farrows Creative

Sharon Morgan, Ruth Lloyd and Ri Richards in ‘Cosy’ rehearsals. Image: Farrows Creative

There reaches a point in every theatre production of a sole-authored script when the playwright needs to leave the room…. and now is my time to do just that….

New writing is exactly that – new – it is untried and brings with it all the excitement, risk and anticipation of doing something for the first time… I loved being in rehearsals full time for several weeks, trying out the script, making amendments, getting feedback from visiting playwrights and dramaturgs as well as the company… Now it is my turn to leave everything in the director’s capable hands and allow him and the company to make their final preparations…

We preview on Tuesday 8th March, International Women’s Day, which seems an appropriate day for a play all about women, of all ages, written by a woman playwright…. We’ve also been receiving some fantastic coverage in the press and media, which I reproduce below. Have a ‘Cosy’ read or a listen….

A podcast with Dylan Moore for the Institute of Welsh Affairs: http://www.clickonwales.org/2016/02/iwa-podcast-confronting-the-last-taboo-old-age-and-death-in-theatre/

Read about the most influential and powerful women in Welsh theatre here 

On normalcy and diversity – an interview in The Stage

Lyn Gardner’s Guardian preview of Cosy

Actor Sara Beer and me in conversation with Nicola Heywood Thomas on BBC Radio Wales Arts Show

Joe Turnbull’s interview with me on normalcy and coming from a family of rebels for Exeunt theatre magazine

A feature I wrote about writing for female protagonists for Art Scene In Wales

An interview with Welsh National Treasure Sara Beer for Western Mail and Wales Online

Richard Huw Morgan and Pitch – radio interview with Tom Wentworth, Ruth Lloyd, Llinos Daniel and me

25 exciting things to do in Wales during March WOW247

Ali Smith, The Baileys, and what lies beneath…

Congratulations to Ali Smith on winning The Baileys with How To Be Both. I recommend the interview with her in The Guardian, illuminating on many fronts. As someone who has just written an essay on form for a forthcoming on-line ‘special’ for New Welsh Review, and whose mind has been deliciously engaged for weeks on storytelling across  genres, I read her thoughts on narrative avidly.

I was particularly struck with a passage about what she coined ‘the not-said’ – the undertow, the subtext, what lies beneath:

‘This seems to me to be what narrative does all the time, beautifully. As we are reading, what really gets us is the undertow: what is not being said. The not-said is so ferocious. lt is important. Which is why Henry James is such a master, because the not-said is always pressing against the surface of the prose, and we can feel it in our skin, we can feel it in our bodies; it is physical, a physical pressure in narrative.’

I love this, her insistence on the corporeality of storytelling, the tangible impact good writing can have on our bodies…. Something we can all aspire to.

‘Theatre has to get to get over itself and put crips in its scripts.’ Guardian Comment is Free.

The Guardian Comment is Free asked me to respond to Lisa Hammond’s Open Letter to Writers: Put Crips in your scripts (reproduced on this blog at: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/lisa-hammonds-open-letter-to-writers-put-crips-in-your-scripts/)  

What follows is their edit of my article.

I think it is edifying to read the forty plus comments on the Guardian website in response to the article. You will find the article and the comments at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/30/theatre-disability-crips-in-scripts

Theatre has to get over itself and put crips in its scripts.

Kaite O’Reilly. 

Guardian Comment is Free.

I was delighted to read Lisa Hammond’s open letter to writers as part of this year’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival – Put crips in your scripts. It’s a sentiment I support, and have for some time. As a playwright, I’ve been trying to put complex, seductive, intelligent characters who just so happen to have an impairment into my scripts for decades. It is only in rare cases I am commissioned to write such a play; usually I have to smuggle it in like a Trojan horse, with disability politics and what I call “crip humour” in its belly.

Disability is often viewed as worthy, depressing, or a plethora of other negative associations I (and many others) have been trying to challenge and subvert in our work for years. I find this representation astonishing, for the vast majority of my disabled friends and colleagues are the wittiest, most outrageous and life-affirming human beings I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with.

I identify proudly as a disabled person, but am often struck how to those without this cultural identification the impaired body is “other”. Disabled people are “them” – over there – not a deaf uncle, a parent with Alzheimer’s or an acquaintance who has survived brain injury following a car accident. Although the vast majority of us will acquire impairment through the natural process of ageing, through accident, warfare or illness, disabled people are still feared, ostracised and set apart.

The western theatrical canon is filled with disabled characters. We are metaphors for tragedy, loss, the human condition – the victim or villain, the scapegoat, the inferior, scary “special” one, the freak, the problem requiring treatment, medicalisation and normalisation. Although disabled characters occur in thousands of plays, seldom have the writers been disabled themselves, or written from that perspective. It is also rare for actors with impairments to be cast in productions, even when the character is disabled. As I scornfully stated in my 2002 play Peeling, in which Hammond performed: “Cripping up is the 21st century’s answer to blacking up”.

As Hammond suggests in her essay, the theatre profession just needs to get over it – their fear, concerns about expense, about difference. There are fantastic deaf and disabled performers in the UK, just as there are talented and experienced choreographers, directors, visual artists, sit-down comedians, and writers. I hope that the Paralympics, and Unlimited at Southbank Centre,  part of the Cultural Olympiad, will change preconceptions just as the Olympics did regarding sportswomen and abilities.

For “putting crips in our scripts” means we have different protagonists with different stories, which don’t always have to revolve around yet another medical drama. The active, sexy, wilful protagonists of In Water I’m Weightless are an anomaly simply by being protagonists, and in control of their lives. The work is a montage of movement, visuals, excerpts from fictional monologues and not, as most of the reviewers assumed, the actors’ autobiographies (as director John McGrath said, “that’s called acting”).

We need characters who are not victims, whose diagnosis or difference is not the central drama of their lives, but multi-faceted individuals with careers and relationships, dreams and challenges. I want characters who are full of themselves, their hands and mouths filled with a swanky eloquence. Whether in signed or spoken languages, words can dazzle and dip, shape form, shape meaning and shape a perspective that counters the previously held.

We need to have crips in our scripts not just to reflect the society we live in, but, as one of my characters says, to “threaten the narrow definition of human variety … [to] broaden the scope of human possibilities”. And we need crip actors to perform these parts, not yet another non-disabled actor doing an impersonation, with an eye on an award.

(c) copyright Kaite O’Reilly 30th August 2012.

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

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jul/21/this-weeks-new-theatre-and-dance