Tag Archives: The Llanarth Group

Wales Arts Review Pick of 2016

Theatre Curtain, courtesy Wales Arts Review

Theatre Curtain, courtesy Wales Arts Review

Well, it’s not quite lunar new year, so perhaps I’m not SO late in coming to Wales Arts Review’s Pick of 2016…

Delighted to see my Unlimited commission, ‘Cosy’, produced by The Llanarth Group in association with Wales Millennium Centre and directed by Phillip Zarrilli with a cast of sterling Welsh female performers has made the ‘pick of the year’ in three categories:

Best of Welsh theatre 2016:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/welsh-theatre-the-best-of-2016/

Best articles of 2016 with my authored feature COSY: the Genesis of a play:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/cosy-the-genesis-of-a-play/

Thirdly, best reviews, with Gary Raymond’s insightful analysis:

http://www.walesartsreview.org/24446/

All the selections are well worth reading. This retrospective overview of cultural activity in Wales in 2016 reveals how rich, how innovative, how exciting and how vibrant the work, across all art forms and media, is. I’m proud to be amongst the number.

Thanks to Wales Arts Review.

TOLD BY THE WIND – when performance is ‘quiet’

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group's Told by the Wind

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind

Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli and I first collaborated on ‘Told by the Wind’ in 2010. Fascinated by Japanese aesthetics such as Quietude, and intrigued by what we might co-create together, we embarked on a project which is now in its sixth year. An intimate two-hander, the production has been presented all over the world, from Chicago to Tokyo, Berlin to Wroclaw, and now returns to the UK for a short tour 9 – 17 October, at venues, below.

I am immensely fond of ‘Told’, but I have never lost my sense of curiosity about this unusual and ‘hypnotic’ piece. It seems to create a ‘time out of time’, and the reviews of the production over the years have been remarkable, and evocative, often referring to the poetic and meditative impact of the work.

It is also a fascinating process to return to an ‘old’ performance to re-stage it. The connections seem to be deeper and the work more mature. It is a privilege to observe Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli reassemble the piece, and support them as ‘the outside eye’. At 52 minutes long, the performance only has 10 minutes of dialogue, the rest taken up with their delicate and precise movement work and Jo’s dance and choreography.

Phillip has recently written a feature for Wales Arts Review ‘Beneath the Surface of Told by the Wind’ and Joanna an ‘In My Own Words’ for Art Scene in Wales. Both are fascinating insights into process and influence, and well worth a look.

…at a threshold…two figures…two lives…multiple time spaces…

 TOLD BY THE WIND ‘dances’ an inner landscape. Interweaving movement, dance, lyrical text, and silence, Told invites the audience to enter this imaginative place of possibilities where two figures and two lives are always poised at a threshold…

UK PRESS:

“…hypotic…a haunting, painterly beauty…[with] the astringent purity of a haiku poem…intense meditation in movement…the performers have a remarkable presence…”  **** THE GUARDIAN

“…perfection in movement, text, staging…a beautifully contemplative sixty minutes…”    BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

INTERNATIONAL PRESS:

“…minimal…mesmerizing…evokes both later T.S. Eliot and haiku…parallels…the work of Merce Cunningham…two memorable live performers…” SEE CHICAGO DANCE

“…Beckettian magnetic poetry…all dropped like shapeless stones into a moonlit lake of silence…Each dances the other’s absence. Both are beautiful movers…” CHICAGO TIME OUT

 Video Trailer: https://vimeo.com/170952365

The Llanarth Group

TOLD BY THE WIND

Co-created by: Kaite O’Reilly, Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli
Lighting Design by: Ace McCarron
Performers: Jo Shapland, Phillip Zarrilli

Dramaturg: Kaite O’Reilly
Venues:

SMALL WORLD THEATRE (Cardigan)
Sunday 09 October, 3pm
Online: http://www.smallworld.org.uk/
Telephone: 01239 615952
Tickets: £6 (preview)

 

CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff)
Wed & Thurs 12th -13th October, 7:30pm
Online: http://www.chapter.org
Telephone: 0290 20304400

 

EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE
Monday 17 October, 7:30pm
Online: http://exeternorthcott.co.uk
Telephone: 01392 726363
Tickets: £8-£15
Age guidance: 15+

Cosying up to the critics….

And so I find myself in Berlin, continuing my fellowship at the remarkable International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, Freie Universitat, and preparing to set off to the German language premiere of one of my plays at Mainfranken Theater Wurzburg. I will write about my research work in a future blog, along with the German language premiere of The Almond and the Seahorse – translated by Frank Heibert as Mandel und Seepferdchen. Before I move on to this German adventure, I feel I have to complete the circle with my previous production, Cosy, The Llanarth Group in association with the Wales Millennium Centre, supported by Unlimited.

It is one month since that play premiered, and I have only really absorbed the astonishing critical response to the production, directed by Phillip Zarrilli, with a wealth of Welsh women performers: Sara Beer, Llinos Daniel, Bethan Rose Young, Ri Richards, Sharon Morgan and Ruth Lloyd.

Sara Beer as Maureen in 'Cosy'. Photo: Farrows Creative

Sara Beer as Maureen in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

I have been collecting the reviews and responses, and excerpts follow, with links to the full reviews:

Brief extracts from reviews of COSY by Kaite O’Reilly  

8-12 March, 2016 Wales Millennium Centre

‘COSY: It will make your heart pump and your belly shake.’  

         Denis Lennon Art Scene in Wales (March 11, 2016) http://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/cosy-wales-millennium-centre

‘When the lights go up at the end of Kaite O Reilly’s Cosy in the WMC’s Weston Studio, you might find that you have to pick yourself up off the floor and put an ice pack on your face for the clobber it gives you. This play fights you and your natural urge to ignore the inevitable; it provokes and can reduce you to tears like any great fighter. And it does so, as O’Reilly does so well, through language…This production stirs and questions our ideals of life and death in a beautiful and sensitive manner. It will make your heart pump and your belly shake. A thought-provoking night that is not to be missed.’

 

New Welsh Review Issue 110 (Winter 2016)

‘Cosy’ by Kaite O’Reilly at WMC 

Sophie Baggott  https://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=1169

…‘Cosy’ is simultaneously the most moving and entertaining script I’ve heard on a Welsh stage in years…The all-female cast members are each phenomenally in tune with their characters… O’Reilly’s writing is, at times, breathlessly beautiful. Without warning, bickering is wrenched into raw, soul-searching outbursts… [O]ne might…have been aghast at the deafening decibels of laughter spilling out of Weston Studio throughout the performance. Yet, rather than cloaking ‘Cosy’ in gloom, O’Reilly’s play beams with black comedy. The sisters are wickedly funny in this cross-wired mess of a situation. The playwright displays a quite perfect clip of how families so often muddle their way through the most maze-like dramas with a ‘well, you have to laugh’ mentality.

Sharon Morgan in 'Cosy'. Photo: Farrows Creative

Sharon Morgan in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

The Arts Desk, 4 stars

Powerful disquisition on ageing, death and womanhood

 Gary Raymond 10 March 2016 The Arts Desk **** http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/cosy-wales-millennium-centre

‘Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a dark dark comedy, a Chekhovian family saga on a mainly bare stage that handles its subjects of aging, death and family with a rich and grounded intellectualism to be expected of the playwright’s work. The production itself skips lightly along the thin line that separates reality from a discomforting dreamscape, the waiting room: everyone is waiting, for death, for life, for family members to arrive. It is an ominous comedy…

Sharon Morgan is regal as Rose; Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd and Llinos Daniel are excellent as the sisters; Bethan Rose Young has perhaps the most difficult task as the precocious 16-year-old who seems to learn nothing in school other than enlightenment philosophy; but it is Sara Beer who steals the show as Maureen, a brilliant and disconcerting comic turn that from the off envelops the play in a sense of the otherworldly.’

Western Mail/Wales Online

Cosy tackles the difficult subject of suicide with comic timing and emotional depth

Jafar Iqbal 10 March 2016 http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-news/cosy-tackles-difficult-subject-suicide-11020164

‘Good things happen when Kaite O’Reilly comes to Cardiff. Previous visits have resulted in critically acclaimed productions showcased by the likes of Sherman Cymru and National Theatre Wales…For what is arguably her most intimate production to date, O’Reilly may also have produced her best…Cosy is a tender meditation on the value of life…What immediately stands out when watching Cosy is its honesty. O’Reilly tackles an extremely sensitive subject with a matter-of-factness that is, at times, shocking. Suicide is discussed frankly, without prejudice and, crucially, with laugh-out-loud humour, giving it a legitimacy that is both liberating and unnerving at the same time…six exceptional performances. The characters are all beautifully developed, the natural chemistry between them all making for great viewing. Standing out from the pack is Sharon Morgan, as Rose… As the play reaches its powerful conclusion, the audience is gripped. Comedies about suicide aren’t made too often but, in writing a very good one, Kaite O’Reilly proves yet again why she is amongst Britain’s best playwrights. And someone welcome back to Cardiff any time.’

Llinos Daniel (Gloria), Ri Richards (Ed), Sharon Morgan (Rose), Ruth Lloyd (Camille) and Bethan Rose Young (Isabella) in 'Cosy'. Photo: Farrows Creative

Llinos Daniel (Gloria), Ri Richards (Ed), Sharon Morgan (Rose), Ruth Lloyd (Camille) and Bethan Rose Young (Isabella) in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

 

The Stage. 4 stars.

Cosy review at Wales Millennium Centre – ‘deliberately discomforting confrontation with death’

Rosemary Waugh. **** https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/2016/cosy/

‘“Well, doesn’t this look cosy?” says Gloria (Llinos Daniel) as she lets herself into her mother’s living room. Yet, despite the title, there is nothing cosy about Kaite O’Reilly’s new play. Instead, all aspects sit incongruously with one another, from the self-consciously fashionable clothes warn by middle-aged Camille (Ruth Lloyd), to the clunky, prep school philosophy phrasing spouted by granddaughter Isabella (Bethan Rose Young) and, most of all, the different family members forced together.

This conscious discomfort continues into Simon Banham’s set design, which starts life as nondescript, dust-sheeted mounds, before morphing into blood-red lines of nursing home chairs that slice the space into disjointed angles. Lighting by Ace McCarron brings the medicinal into the domestic setting, turning first spearmint blue and then a saccharine peach. Gloria, the most estranged daughter, is introduced in a blaze of red, while the increasingly frequent mentions of death turn the stage black. The production’s soul is found in the musical interludes by Daniel, which act as buffer zones between the fraught familial exchanges.

Rose’s (Sharon Morgan) insistence that her family must confront the idea of death is the ultimate un-cosy element. Her more didactic ruminations are lifted by Sara Beer’s humorous, subtler comments on assisted suicide and disability…’

Bethan Rose Young, Sara Beer, Sharon Morgan in Kaite O'Reilly's 'Cosy'. Photo: Farrows Creative

Bethan Rose Young, Sara Beer, Sharon Morgan in Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

 

Dr Mark Taubert. Ehospice.com

Author: Dr Mark Taubert, Clinical Director/Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff) (http://www.ehospice.com [palliative care news])

‘Where to begin to describe this play by renowned playwright Kaite O’Reilly? I’ll start by making up a word: ‘uncosy’ came up repeatedly in my mind with an ill-at-ease feeling delivered with unremitting pace throughout this play……Sara Beer gives one of the stand-out performances in this play, with her witty, funny and astutely observed thoughts on modern medicine, life, death, attitudes towards disabled people and also assisted suicide…

‘Cosy’ dealt with the big ethical questions our society will face in future in a surprisingly balanced way. This balance is achieved by witnessing debates between people with very different opinions: they argue and argue, but this is portrayed in an informed way.

Advance care planning, advance decisions, do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation decisions (and tattoos) all get pitched in such a way that a medical professional like myself could identify with this societal critique – and not cringe, as so often happens when fiction tries to imitate medical reality. I nodded a lot during the play, mainly in recognition of what I have seen and heard in hospital, community and hospice medicine over the last 16 years…’

 

British Theatre Guide

Othniel Smith

Cosy ‘…wears its deep seriousness lightly; a tale of empowerment which leaves one deep in contemplation.’

Ruth Lloyd in 'Cosy'. Photo: Farrows Creative

Ruth Lloyd in ‘Cosy’. Photo: Farrows Creative

 

3rd Act Critic

Cosy: ticking meat

Holly Joy https://3rdactcritics.wordpress.com/?s=Cosy&submit=Search

‘We are hit with a sombre set. Cosy, it says on the backdrop. Exquisitely mournful music plays, a woman’s voice breaks the air and it begins. Watching these remarkable women enact such complex and difficult subjects – ageing, euthanasia, suicide, terminal illness and sibling rivalry with sense, passion, anger and humour was sobering.’


playing ‘The Maids’ video – Wales, Ireland, South Korea, Singapore, Austria….

Earlier this year I was dramaturg and co-creator of an intensely exciting intercultural production between The Llanarth Group (Wales), Theatre P’Yut (Korea) and Gaitkrash (Ireland): playing ‘The Maids’. Documented elsewhere on this blog, we responded to issues in Genet’s ‘The Maids’ in the contemporary global context of austerity and boom.

Flyer_playing_the_maids_FRONT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Whittaker of Hide Productions documented several performances, and I’m really thrilled to be able to post the link for a stunning film he has made of the work.

You can see the work here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing the Maids: Austerity, Inequality and the Tyranny of Glamour: Wales Arts Review

In the week that the excellent Wales Arts Review relaunches with an improved website and more in-depth analysis, I’m delighted to see my last production, ‘playing The Maids’, an intercultural, international collaboration with Theatre P’yut (Korea). Gaitkrash (Ireland) and The Llanarth Group (Wales) is prominently featured. At a time when theatre reviewers of national newspapers are no longer supported to go outside the capital to see work, initiatives like Wales Arts Review become even more the life blood of cultural engagement and analysis. What is particularly gratifying is the joy with which the talented writers of Wales Arts Review undertake this serious task. It is a pleasure and relief to have the journal back and I highly recommend it, whether you are based in Wales or not. You can find cultural commentary, arts coverage, reviews, commissioned new fiction and a whole lot more at http://www.walesartsreview.org  Subscribe. Remarkably, it’s free, and feels like a gift dropping into your email in-box.

What follows is the insightful and informed essay by Phil Morris. The full copy, with images, can be viewed at: http://www.walesartsreview.org/playing-the-maids/

Flyer_playing_the_maids_FRONT

PLAYING ‘THE MAIDS’: AUSTERITY, INEQUALITY AND THE TYRANNY OF GLAMOUR by Phil Morris for Wales Arts Review

When theatre occasionally wriggles free from the straight-jacket of linear narrative there is, perhaps, no more effective art-form for interrogating the contingencies and potentialities that surround a single moment of space-time. In such a moment, charged with the twin forces of past and future, it is possible to feel the weight of history upon the present while, simultaneously, being able to intuit the profound consequences of events that are still in flux. The considerable achievement of playing ‘the maids’ – a dazzling intercultural collaboration from the Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash (Ireland) and Theatre P’yut (Korea) – is that our contemporary moment of global economic crisis is explored, with great clarity, purpose and theatrical power, from the multi-perspectival viewpoint of nine creative collaborators from four countries, working in four different languages and from a variety of theatrical and musical traditions. The intellectual rigour of the piece is impressive, in particular its meta-theatrical treatment of Jean Genet’s modernist masterpiece The Maids, but crucially at the heart of the piece is the stark reality that the product of economic and gender inequality is only human suffering, rage and despair.

The choice of The Maids as source material for a piece about inequality seemed particularly apposite for the creative team, as cellist Adrian Curtin – who provided the musical accompaniment and vocalised stage directions in performance – explains: ‘In Genet’s play, servitude is toxic and corrosive; it ensnares all involved and is perpetually dynamic.’ The mutual entanglement of mistress and servant in a dynamic of power infuses Genet’s work with a disturbing atmosphere of menace, eroticism and exploitation, which remain relevant to modern audiences. Curtin adds, ‘Where is power located? What guises does it take? What are its effects? Genet’s text provided an excellent framework with which to explore these questions’. However, the globalisation of the world economy in the past thirty years, and in particular the ‘rise’ of the Asian economies; coupled with decades of feminist and post-feminist thought, have complicated the question of economic and gender inequality beyond the rigidly class-based politics of Genet’s play. Director Phillip Zarrilli says: ‘[W]hen we initiated our collaborative process, we agreed to use Genet’s play as a ‘foil’ – a beginning point for responding in new ways to the powerful issues that underlie the play’. The result is a performance piece – it resists simple definition as a play – that responds to the complexities and nuances of modern globalised capitalism and the legacies of imperialism.

This collective decision to use The Maids as an inspirational source, rather than as a primary text that the production might serve, was not only important in terms of liberating the nine creative collaborators to explore beyond Genet’s analysis of power, it also meant that a fully intercultural collaboration between them was made possible. The aspirations of multiculturalism are laudable and desirable with regard to militating racial discrimination and encouraging religious tolerance, but in practice it too often works to eradicate genuine cultural differences in pursuit of its aims of social integration or assimilation. Interculturalism is concerned with dialogue and exchange, it recognises and insists on difference but does not recognise the dominance of one culture over another. In Cultivating Humanity Martha Nussbaum observes that interculturalism recognises ‘common human needs across cultures and of dissonance and critical dialogue within cultures’. With the intention of creating a performance piece that would question, criticise and satirise the power interests of global capital, neo-imperialism and the super-rich oligarchs of East-Asian economies, the imperative of finding some ground on which an intercultural dramaturgical dialogue could take place was clear to all involved in playing ‘the maids’. Genet’s play was therefore situated as a meeting point at which each creative collaborator could engage as theatre artists, all incorporating their own cultural-specific responses to the source play within the process of play-making.

Writing in Exeunt, Irish-born Wales-based playwright, Kaite O’Reilly, describes how intercultural dramaturgy makes particular demands of its collaborative creative partners, in that the customary defined roles of ‘director’, ‘writer’ and ‘performer’ become somewhat opaque, as each member of the company is required to introduce material of some kind toward the development of the piece.

‘In other productions, roles have been clear and the lines agreed and drawn … In this fascinating collaboration roles have deliberately been as porous and overlapping as the creative process. All nine company members have taken equal part in proposing material, leading exploratory material-generating workshops responding to the source from our particular cultural and artistic perspectives.’

Allowing typically prescribed creative roles to become ‘porous and overlapping’ can liberate and empower individual performers to coalesce as a richly-textured ensemble, equally, it can also threaten unnecessary confusion and chaos in the rehearsal room. It is therefore essential that working relationships of deep mutual trust be established when creating work in the open and inclusive manner described above. Happily, playing ‘the maids’ benefitted from what O’Reilly describes as ‘the firm foundation created by previous collaborations between the various artists involved.’ Crucially, Zarrilli has worked for a number of years with all five actors involved in the project, who have each received training in the director’s psychophysical training.

The psychophysical process has been developed by Zarrilli from the mid-seventies, with the purpose of preparing and awakening the ‘bodymind’ of the actor. It incorporates physical, mental and spiritual exercises drawn from Chinese taiquiquan, yoga, and the Indian martial art Kalaripayattu. It must be stressed that Zarrilli’s techniques are not designed to produce a specific movement-centred style of performance, nor does it reject the ideas of Western theorists including Stanislavski; rather it would be more accurate to characterise psychophysical training as a pre-performative approach that enables actors to become more aware of their energy, and, as a result, more capable of deploying it effectively in performance. It is also a means of sharpening the actor’s mental focus. Jeungsook Yoo, who plays one of the maids, Claire, values the approach as a means of delving ‘into wider possibilities of their bodymind and acting beyond the conventional mode of actor training and mainstream acting style where words, narrative and psychological character approach occupy the central position.’

The fruits of Zarrilli’s methodology are clear to see (and hear) in playing ‘the maids’ – it has been a long time since this critic has observed a cast that is so evidently and intensely listening to each other. They make the act of listening palpable, and imbue the performance space with a concentrated energy that is utterly riveting, especially during moments of silence and stillness. Given the nature of intercultural exchange, it is of critical importance that each onstage performer fully commits to each act of speech and of listening, so that surprising and provocative relationships between different cultural traditions might emerge and engage meaningfully with each other. A good example of such a relationship developing in performance comes as Jeungsook Yoo performs a dance called Salpuri. The dance derives from Korean Shamanistic tradition and it is purportedly meant to release Han, which roughly translates to English as an expression of deep collective or personal suffering. The dance is accompanied by Irish actor Regina Crowley, who sings a song of lament, in Gaelic, which references that painful time in Irish history when its indigenous language and culture was banned by the occupying British Empire. Of course, Salpuri and Irish folk songs are highly individual products of separate historical processes that are unique to Korean and Irish culture, and are therefore not necessarily expressions of the same thing. Yet when they are juxtaposed next to each other in performance certain resonances are made available to an audience, as respective national memories of imperial oppression, famine and war are communicated to offer tantalising new meanings.

Complex cultural inter-relationships find witty expression during what is perhaps the most entertaining passage of playing ‘the maids’, when Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, playing Madame, sings a pop song in mandarin. The Singaporean actor performs this high-camp number with gestures that quote from the performative traditions of Beijing Opera and Chinese soap operas. At the same time, the two Korean actors dance Gangnam style while their Irish counterparts do a jig. In counterpoint to the Chinese music Adrian Curtin starts to riff on the theme tune of popular sitcom Father Ted on the cello. Each of the performers appears to delight in sending-up the clichés and stereotypes of their own cultures. The effect is to balance the more challenging explorations of dominance and exploitation explored elsewhere in the production.

The nine collaborators who devised playing ‘the maids’ create a richly textured and multi-layered examination of global capitalism at a pivotal moment in history. They do so by realising a multi-perspectival vision that is of particular interest because it reflects the experiences of so called smaller nations, from which they each originate. It is exciting to find that Wales, as the host of this stimulating collaboration, is making a timely contribution to the global discourse on money and power.

It is also worth noting that playing ‘the maids’ examines gender inequality as poignantly as it does economic inequality. This quality is enhanced by the presence of five female actors in the cast, who bring their respective histories as women to the piece. As Jeungsook Yoo explains, there exists a ‘Korean obsession with ideal beauty’ that has fuelled a ‘boom of the plastic surgery and cosmetics industry’ in the country, which ‘resonated with the maids’ aspiration towards Madame’s beauty and wealth’. Both Korean actors satirise this yearning fascination with a highly-westernised concept of femininity in one short devastating scene that epitomises the tyranny of glamour.

Whereas, near the end of the play, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo as Madame, immaculately dressed and poised, embodies the glamour of tyranny as she pronounces: ‘While in Hong Kong, or Singapore being served canapés and champagne by white-gloved waiters in white and gold uniforms, have you ever selected your next London apartment just for the view along the Thames?’ It is in moments like these, contrasting the vast wealth that is accumulating within narrow sections of the Asian economies with the new paradigm of austerity that is plaguing the West, that you can sense just how the tectonic plates of the world economy have discernibly (and possibly irrevocably) shifted.

Another source material for playing ‘the maids’ is Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century. The book’s central thesis is that wealth is increasing becoming concentrated in the hands of tiny moneyed elites as the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic global trends in economic growth. The resulting unequal distribution of wealth causes social and economic instability, what Piketty calls the ‘endless inegailitarian cycle’.

Piketty’s phrase inspires the final image of playing ‘the maids’ that sees the entire cast running round in circles, holding aloft a puppet effigy of Madame, which represents their hopeless lack of agency in a world in which finance has become a self-feeding malignant force that devours the future. They spiral into complete darkness – the clatter of their shoes beating an insistent rhythm.

The image disturbs and saddens, as it should, but the creative ambition and intercultural reach of this extraordinary company provides sufficient inspiration to offer some consoling light.

playing ‘the maids’ is a collaboration between nine multi-disciplinary artists:

Director: Phillip Zarrilli

Dramaturg: Kaite O’Reilly

Cellist: Adrian Curtin

Sound: Mick O’Shea

Actors: Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, Jeungsook Yoo, Sunhee Kim. Bernadette Cronin, Regina Crowley

(c) Phil Morris. Wales Arts Review.

‘Stunning..’ 5 Star Review for ‘playing The Maids’

 

Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, 'playing The Maids'

Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, ‘playing The Maids’

The Public Reviews

Reviewer: Denis Lennon

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/playing-the-maids-chapter-arts-centre-cardiff/


If you are looking for a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids when you come to Chapter to watch Playing ‘The Maids’ you will find something else entirely, and may not get what you came for. What you will get, however, is a performance that engages and interrogates the notions of servitude within Genet’s world – a world where two sister maids play out fantasies to kill their Madame. For an audience, this production raises far more questions than it attempts to answer. It poses a challenge for the audience to scrutinise the power dynamics present within the 2015 zeitgeist. This is a refreshing break from the patronising didacticism we are all too often privy to in theatre today.
With this intercultural collaboration between the Irish Gaitkrash Company, the Korean Theatre P’yut and Wales based Llanarth Group, something of rare complexity, beauty and conviction has been created under the guidance of director Phillip Zarrilli and dramaturge Kaite O’Reilly.
“You look at me as if I am moving, it’s not me moving, I am being moved.”
The piece situates itself in a metatheatrical limbo: one minute we have one of Genet’s maids in front of us onstage, the next the same actor speaks her own name as stated very clearly in the programme on our laps. These transitions, from one reality to another, are not always obvious, leaving the audience in a constant state of questioning who exactly they are looking at, at any one moment. The way the company play with this ambiguity is inspired and had me (at times, literally) on the edge of my seat and still has me questioning the power dynamics present within the piece and, now, wider society.
All performers, including the musicians, in this production show a seamless cohesion with one another which creates an atmosphere and necessary moments of tension so palpable that the audience on the night held tightly onto any tickles in their throats to the end.
Apart from this wonderful production’s existential qualities, it serves the audience with an aesthetic feast from the belly-butterfly inducing crescendos created by cellist Adrian Curtin and sound artist Mick O’Shea, to the hilariously jarring Chinese night club karaoke of the Madame (Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo).
All this is interwoven by, sometimes subtle, humour throughout, for example when we hear the Irish sisters (Bernadette Cronin & Regina Crowley) threaten each other with a tirade of violent imagery, whilst always remaining sisterly or when the Korean sisters (Jeungsook Yoo & Sunhee Kim) display their fascination with the Madame’s beauty products with a hilarious, but poignant, childishness. These performances are all stunning.
If there is anything amiss in this performance, so much is the level of engagement that I did not notice it. Even the times I started to question any particular choice, such as the use of a distorted microphone to read stage directions, these choices were always justified later –it turns out the distortion of the voice serves a wonderful disembodied quality necessary for the metatheatricality of the piece.
This performance is something that will stay with me for some time and I urge you to see.

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Thurs-Sat 19-21 February and Friday-Saturday 27-28 February, all at 8pm

02920 304400 / www.chapter.org

 

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon

Thursday 26 February at 8pm

01874 611622 / www.brycheiniog.co.uk

 

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Friday 6 March at 7.30pm

01970 623232 / www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk

Intercultural Dramaturgy – playing The Maids

Playing The Maids

What follows is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Exeunt magazine on Intercultural Dramaturgy. For the full article, including reflections from Adrian Curtin, please go to: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/playing-the-maids-intercultural-dramaturgy/

The notes of an unexpected duet fill the studio. Ku-eum, literally ‘mouth-sound’, imitating traditional Korean instruments,and ‘old style’ Gaelic Sean Nos furl about each other like rising smoke. It is an astonishing aural collision, a resonant meeting of two diverse vocal traditions, and part of an international encounter initiated by theatre director Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group.

playing ‘The Maids’ is a new performance created between languages, cultures, and art forms; a collaboration between nine multidisciplinary artists, three performance companies (Llanarth Group – Wales, Gaitkrash – Ireland, Theatre P’yut – Korea), and four languages – Korean, Gaelic, Mandarin, and our shared language, English. I am one of the nine co-creators in this complex, culturally diverse production.

Although it name-checks the classic modernist text, playing ‘The Maids’ is not a production of Jean Genet’s play. Rather, it is an intercultural exploration of the themes, relationships, and power dynamics offered in the source text from the different social, cultural, aesthetic, and artistic perspectives of the creative team.

First produced in 1947, Genet’s The Maids was reputedly inspired by the real life story of the Papin sisters, French maids who killed their abusive mistress and her daughter in 1933, claimed by the Communist Party as victims of both labour and gender oppression. Genet’s text seethes with working class discontent, and created a scandal when first produced with its dark portrayal of sibling dynamics, gender constructions, and ritual.

playing ‘The Maids’ moves beyond Genet’s meta-theatrical text to create a layered and textured set of dynamics between ‘Madame’ (played by Chinese-Singaporean Jing Okorn-Kuo), and two sets of Irish and Korean sister-maids. Performatively, it interrogates who creates and controls whom using a broad palette of styles and approaches – improvisation, physical scores, choreography, a live soundscape, satirical observation, and economic analysis.Sibling rivalry and the related intense love/hate dynamics are universal, and in this time of European austerity, and what the media has termed ‘the Asian boom’, the source text’s themes of wealth, privilege, and service have an obvious resonance for us all.

‘A lot of people are suffering in Ireland through no fault of their own, but because of a corrupt banking system,’ Bernie Cronin of Gaitkrash says. ‘I think people feel very helpless and stuck – and Genet’s maids are stuck… They’re marked by their lack of agency; they’re marked by their lack of means. I think in this aspect, what we’re exploring has a very real relevance.’

What follows is my reflection on the process as production dramaturg, with end-notes by my fellow company member Adrian Curtin.

An International intercultural interaction.

The prefix ‘inter’ refers to the space between, where there is the potential for things to happen – good or bad. In my experience as a playwright and dramaturg, this space between has never before been so populated, and alive.

I have many metaphors for the job I do, and these shift according to project, company dynamics, and the actual tasks at hand, which are dependent on where we are in the process. I sometimes think of a dramaturg as the oil that swirls around all parts of the mechanism/body/engine, ensuring it moves in synchronicity and harmony (even if that ‘harmony’ involves deliberate counterpoint) and at its peak performance. A dramaturg ‘tunes’ the engine/body, ensuring all aspects are working together and doing the job in hand, moving in the same direction, with the same destination, with a consistency and ‘logic’ (even if that is illogical) flowing throughout.

playing ‘The Maids’ has been a constant negotiation of a potentially contested territory – the areas of overlap between the work of the director, dramaturg, choreographer, and devising performers, what Eugenio Barba called ‘the dramaturgy of the actor’, what I consider the task in the moment. In other productions, roles have been clear and the lines agreed and drawn – for example, I work as a playwright with a director, or the singular dramaturg with director and performers. In this fascinating collaboration roles have deliberately been as porous and overlapping as the creative process. All nine company members have taken equal part in proposing material, leading exploratory material-generating workshops responding to the source from our particular cultural and artistic perspectives, and creating structures (or scenes/beats). Although I am the ‘official’ playwright in the company, the director (Phillip Zarrilli), and cellist (Adrian Curtin) have also written dialogue, with additional text contributed by all performers.

As an international ensemble we have been aware of and critical of the oversimplification of intercultural performance as presented in the Patrice Pavis model of the hour glass: source and ‘target’ culture – as if the process was the simple binary of material pouring from one receptacle into another.

Rather, our studio process has been closer to the one described by Tian in his book, The Poetics of Difference and Displacement. The place in between is a site of negotiation. Notions, forms, and assumptions normative or usual to one culture or individual will be disturbed, challenged, or displaced by encounter with difference, and often replaced with something else. In our studio space we have been interrogating this space between, navigating complex territory.

It could have been fraught were it not for the mutual trust and respect between all collaborators, and the firm foundation created by previous collaborations between the various artists involved, such as the five female performers having trained (at times extensively) with Phillip Zarrilli in his psychophysical approach to acting, using Asian martial arts and yoga. These experiences have provided a common ground in approach and theatre language for the ensemble, enabling what at times feels like magical shortcuts in process for those outside this shared practice. It is a pointed lesson in efficiency and quality-management in times of funding cuts and squeezed rehearsal processes. For example, although the five women performers have never worked together before in this conjunction, sharing Zarrilli’s psychophysical approach to acting serves as ‘a grounding, a mode of being, of operation we all share,’ Sunhee Kim of Theatre P’yut explains.

Gaitkrash is a Cork-based company comprising of Bernie Cronin, Regina Crowley, and sound artist Mick O’Shea. The company are interested in the ‘liveness’ of performance, and new forms of theatre and sound. Together with cellist Adrian Curtin, Mick provides an improvised sound environment for the devising performers to respond to, exploring servitude and privilege. This creates another strata for the layered performance score, another framing device that ‘holds’ the action, yet as Mick and Adrian are in dialogue with the performers in the moment, extraordinary flexibility is possible, and space for something else to emerge.

Such dialoguing and encounter allows unexpected moments of resonance and complicity, which we then superimpose, juxtapose, or bind together dramaturgically.

Much of my time has been spent documenting and keeping track of the raw materials generated in workshops and improvisations. Structures ‘offer’ themselves into sequences and others need to be sliced into or interrupted, to create counterpoint and dissonance.

In the studio it is often impossible to say whether the work is ‘instinctive’ or ‘intuitive’, or whether knowledge and experience has become so ingrained as to become ‘second nature’ – and so options and opportunities ‘reveal’ themselves or ‘emerge’ rather than being consciously assembled. It is part of the pleasure and apparent ‘magic’ of being together in the moment: ‘something happening all by itself’.

An Example of Practice:

Jeungsook Yoo performs an adapted form of Salpuri, a shamanistic dance for the release of Han – a uniquely Korean concept and national cultural trait which has no English language equivalent. Han is collective and personal, a deep sorrow or grief connected to suffering which finds expression, explicitly or implicitly, in every aspect of Korean life and culture. Sunhee Kim describes Han as ‘a lens through which we see things.’

As Jeungsook Yoo moves through the dance, we plait in Sean Nos: Regina Crowley sings a Gaelic song dating back to the Penal Laws in Ireland in the seventeenth century, when the colonizing British passed laws prohibiting Catholics from buying land, owning property, entering certain professions, and practicing their faith. All Irish language, culture, music, and education was banned, leading to the Irish being impoverished, landless, and leaderless by the time of the 1841 census.

Suddenly through our interweaving in this space between, Sal Puri from Korean Shamanic practices finds its echo in Sean Nos – solo Irish vocal traditions whose roots are in the oppressive period of imperialist rule – connecting with the ‘fermented grudge’ of Han, in Jeungsook Yoo’s description of this particular Korean sentiment. Sunhee Kim completes the moment with Ku-eum, the ‘mouth-sound’ mingling and making counterpoint with the lamentation of the traditional Gaelic song. ‘Madame’ watches, as Bernie Cronin in her maid’s outfit kneels, her lips submissively smiling, but dissent and rage blazing in her eyes.

These ways of seeing and being can be shared and explored collectively in this space between, not through the appropriation or dilution of cultural form, but from each artist offering cultural, aesthetic, or artistic perspectives as resonance or counterpoint. Something shifts and is changed by this encounter, and collectively, without taking from the other, or insisting on one culture’s dominance, something else emerges – a poetics of difference, a moment of complicite.

For the full article, please go to http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/playing-the-maids-intercultural-dramaturgy/