Kaite O’Reilly has won various awards for her work, including the Peggy Ramsay Award for YARD (Bush Theatre, London), Manchester Evening News Best Play of 2004 for Perfect (Contact Theatre) and was one of the winners of the 2009 International Susan Smith Blackburn Award for The Almond and the Seahorse (Sherman Cymru). Her new version of Aeschylus’s Persians was directed in August 2010 by Mike Pearson site-specifically on Ministry Of Defence land in Wales, part of the inaugural year of National Theatre Wales, and won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry. She works extensively within disability arts and culture, and wrote the ground breaking peeling for Graeae Theatre in 2002.
O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ (Oberon Books, 2016) is the first collection of plays which places disabled and deaf actors and characters centre stage, and are written by a writer who is at the forefront of disability arts culture.
It is also a collection of plays which will make you reconsider the common language of plays. It will make you think about the usual form of a play which actually excludes any actor who might not fit the norms of ability. It might even make you question whether your own writing needs to change in order to embrace every aspect of the human condition.
There are plays featuring a range of disabilities which broaden the range of characters we usually see on stage.
peeling takes a meta-theatrical format as the three chorus members discuss the play they are and their lives using sign supported English, BSL and audio description. Reading this play was a particularly eye opening experience as the extra forms of communication add multiple layers.
The Almond and the Seahorse deals with traumatic brain injury, and Cosy is about eugenics and assisted suicide, issues which are at the forefront of disability politics. These two plays are more traditional in format, though none-the-less offer surprises.
The monologues In water I’m weightless were developed through extensive conversations with disabled and deaf people about every aspect of their lives. O’Reilly wanted to capture ‘the spiked angry early energy of the disability rights movement as I watched from 2010 onwards David Cameron’s Conservative government dismantle may of the equal rights and benefits we had won…’ This play feels particularly relevant now, as more and more rights are dismantled for disabled and able-bodied alike, and, as with the rest of the plays reproduced in this collection, the texts only serve to underline that despite our differences we are also the same in many ways.
In The 9 Fridas, Frida Kahlo is reclaimed as a disability icon in a mosaic of a play where Frida Kahlo is played by multiple actors.
The form and content of the plays tests not only what a play is, but also who we tell stories about. The play texts are open to being expanded by the actors and the production design. This is very much recommended reading.