Tag Archives: The Stage

“It’s like The Vagina Monologues for Deaf and disabled actors.” The Stage interview.

My recent work in Singapore, developing my Unlimited international r&d commission, seemed to catch peoples’ curiosity and interest. What follows is an excerpt from an interview I gave to Joe Turnbull for The Stage. The full feature can be accessed here. 

O’Reilly’s collaborators Ramesh Meyyappan,
above centre, and Peter Sau, right, with Grace Khoo in And Suddenly I Disappear. Photo: Wesley Loh, Memphis Pictures West

Playwright Kaite O’Reilly’s latest groundbreaking production sets out to challenge the way disabled people are perceived in Singapore. Using disabled actors, she was determined to tell the stories of those who are not normally heard in a country where previous generations were locked up and left to die, as she tells Joe Turnbull

Five years ago, disabled playwright Kaite O’Reilly pushed the humble monologue into new creative territory with In Water I’m Weightless, an Unlimited commission for the Cultural Olympiad as part of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The show featured an all deaf and disabled cast. It had no discernible plot and experimented with dramaturgical form, incorporating access elements such as audio description and sign language into the creative material.

Now, O’Reilly’s latest project And Suddenly I Disappear…The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues, sees her return to this approach of creating a play out of a series of fictionalised monologues – sometimes delivered chorally – which are inspired by stories about the lived experiences of deaf and disabled people. It’s arguably even more ambitious than its predecessor.

Its development spans nine years, five languages and two continents (three if you include the trip to America that inspired it all). Not only that, it seeks to challenge the way disability theatre is both produced and received in Singapore and smash deep-seated preconceptions about disabled and deaf experience along the way.

“I received a Creative Wales Award in 2008-9, which allowed me an extended period of exploration and development,” recalls O’Reilly. “I spent time in New  York very briefly with Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues and Ping Chong and his Undesirable Elements series. I hung out with a load of disabled people that he’d interviewed who he then got to perform. I began thinking about that as a vehicle for challenging preconceptions and hopefully subverting some of the old narratives that are problematic – that are connected to what I would call the ‘atypical body’ – whether that’s neuro or physically or sensory. I interviewed over 70 deaf and disabled people from the UK and the material it inspired me to write became The ‘d’ Monologues, which provided the text for In Water I’m Weightless.”

O’Reilly’s affinity with Singapore predates even that, having had a relationship with its Intercultural Theatre Institute since 2004, and teaching there for the last six years. It was in 2004 that she met two of the main collaborators for And Suddenly I Disappear. The first is Peter Sau, a graduate of the institute and winner of best actor in the 2015 Singapore Life! Theatre Awards. Sau is associate-directing the project and managing much of the work being carried out in Singapore. The other is Ramesh Meyyappan, a deaf Singaporean visual and physical theatremaker now based in Glasgow, who will be overseeing the physical language elements of the project.

O’Reilly explains how she first met Meyyappan all those years ago: “He had just finished a performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death. People were telling him this weird ‘ang mo’ [Singaporean for white foreigner] is waiting outside and says she won’t leave until she speaks with you. We just about managed to have a conversation, partly through Singaporean Sign Language and me with British Sign Language and sign-supported English. It all got very funny.”

O’Reilly reconnected with Sau in 2015 when he came to UK to do an MA. “We started to hatch the idea of what I would call an international dialogue of difference, diversity and disability and deaf experience from opposite sides of the world,” she says. The piece received an Unlimited International R&D in March 2017 and has been in proper development since.

“Although we hadn’t worked together before, I thought I had to have Ramesh on board as well. I explained to him that he would be the bridge. He knows Singaporean sign language and he understands both Singapore and the UK. Also if we’re going to do this work – and I’ve always done this – I want it to be disability-led and deaf-led. So Ramesh is leading the deaf cultural parts of the project.” Everyone else involved in the project also identifies as disabled or deaf, both culturally and politically. Sau and his team have been collecting testimonies of disabled and deaf people in Singapore, with O’Reilly doing the same in the UK, which have inspired the latter to produce a series of fictionalised monologues – some abstract, some character-driven. The monologues are delivered across multiple languages – English, Mandarin, Welsh, British Sign Language and Singapore Sign Language. O’Reilly is keen to stress it’s not verbatim.

“I’ve always said people’s stories belong to them. As long as something says ‘by Kaite O’Reilly’ it has got to be by Kaite O’Reilly, otherwise it’s theft. I think it’s to do with my Irish cultural heritage – your stories are who you are. Ping Chong got around verbatim by getting the interviewees for Undesirable Elements to perform it themselves. I’m not saying verbatim is necessarily bad practice, there are ways of doing it well. It’s just my personal position.”

But some of the testimonies coming out of Singapore have been deeply concerning to O’Reilly, a lifelong disability rights advocate, whose activism includes lying down in front of buses on Direct Action Network demos.

“The central thing I’ve got so far listening to the interviews from Singapore is how people are completely invisible, hence the title. I’m hearing the most terrifying stories of disabled people being kept in the back rooms, never actually going out. A lot of them in previous generations were left to die at birth. So what we’re doing here is really radical. I’m encouraging them to record the interviews as well so there’s an oral archive. These are voices, experiences, perspectives that have never been paid attention to previously.”

To read the rest of the article, please go to: https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2017/writer-kaite-oreilly-on-singapore-d-monologues/

With thanks to Joe Turnbull, The Stage and Unlimited

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.’


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