Page extent: 328
ISBN: 9781783193172
Binding: PaperBack

Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors

Kaite O'Reilly

PaperBack (01 Mar 2016)

Atypical Plays For Atypical Actors is the first of its kind: a collection of dramas which redefines the notion of normalcy and extends the range of what it is to be human. From monologues, to performance texts, to realist plays, these involving and subversive pieces explore disability as a portal to new experience.

Includes the plays: peeling, The Almond and the Seahorse, In Water I’m Weightless, the 9 Fridas and Cosy.

Although disabled characters appear often in plays within the Western theatrical tradition, seldom have the writers been disabled or Deaf themselves, or written from those atypical embodied experiences. This is what contributes to making Kaite O’Reilly’s Selected Plays essential reading – critically acclaimed plays and performance texts written in a range of styles over twelve years, but all informed by a political and cultural disability perspective. They ‘answer back’ to the moral and medical models of disability and attempt to subvert or critique assumptions and negative representations of disabled people.

The selected plays and performance texts exhibit a broad approach to issues around disability. Some, like In Water I’m Weightless/The ‘d’ Monologues (part of the Cultural Olympiad and official festival celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics) are embedded in disability politics, aesthetics, and ‘crip’ humour. A montage of monologues that can be performed solo or as a chorus, they challenge the normative gaze and celebrate all the possibilities of human variety.   The Almond and the Seahorse is different, a ‘mainstream’ character-led realist drama about survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury, with subversive politics in its belly. A response to ‘tragic but brave’ depictions of head injury and memory loss, and informed by personal experience, the play interrogates the reality of living with TBI, questioning who the ‘victims’ are.

peeling, a landmark play written for one Deaf and two disabled female actors, was originally produced by Graeae Theatre Company in 2002, 2003, and for BBC Radio 3. A ‘feminist masterpiece…quietly ground breaking’ (Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman), it has become a set text for Theatre and Drama and Disability Studies university degree courses in the UK and US. Frequently remounted, its lively meta-theatrical form supports its central themes of war, eugenics, and a woman’s control over her fertility, which are as relevant today as ever.  

The performance text the 9 Fridas is a complex mosaic offering multiple representations of arguably the world’s most famous female artist, Frida Kahlo, reclaiming her as a disability icon. Performed in Mandarin translation, it was the closing production of the 2014 Taipei Art Festival and will transfer to Hong Kong in October 2016. It is currently being translated into German, Hindi, and Spanish. 

 Cosy is a darkly comedic look at the joys and humiliations of getting older and how we shuffle off this mortal coil. Three generations of a dysfunctional family explore their choices in a world obsessed with eternal youth, and asks whose life (or death) is it, anyway?  An Unlimited Commission, Cosy will premiere and tour nationally in 2016, appearing at the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre and Tramway.

Additional Information

ISBN13 9781783193172
Binding PaperBack
Page Extent 328


'O’Reilly’s Atypical Plays present opportunities for disabled artists to occupy the stage and challenge audiences’ assumptions about disability and difference... These texts portray disabled characters as sexy, active and wilful beings in empowering and provocative stories, cutting against the grain of the trope for most blockbusters of stage and screen... Together the five plays make essential reading, both for educational purposes and pleasure.' Disability Arts Online

'An invaluable and long over-due collection of untold stories that deserve to take centre stage.' Lyn Gardner, Guardian

'Kaite O’Reilly is a poet of the human condition, a singer of temporal lapses, gaps, translations, missed connections and joyful vibrancy. The performance texts collected here show depth, pain and pleasure. They squeeze the reader, asking her to feel a human touch on her own skin, in her flesh, in the nervous system: this is work that reaches out, and demands that we feel sensations in response. You will be moved' Petra Kuppers. Professor, University of Michigan, and artistic director of Olimpias

'Kaite O’Reilly is a remarkably versatile and passionate voice... The plays themselves draw on a breathtaking range of theatrical genres and devices, from well-made realism, to monologues, to texts for performance-based theatre; creating a combined effect that does not so much subvert stereotypes, as tear them apart... Neither is O’Reilly afraid of experimentation. She is an innovative adaptor of sign language and audio description (those signifiers of ’inclusivity’), and applies these not just as tools for translating texts, but as dynamic theatrical devices in their own right... Kaite O’Reilly is a vital and angry voice in the theatre, and Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors is an important, provocative contribution, not only to the theatre of disability (a term I suspect O’Reilly would loathe), but to twenty-first century theatre as a whole.' Liz Jones, University of Aberystwyth 

'O’Reilly’s Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors 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.' 17percent


'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 Arts Desk ★★★★

'[A] deliberately discomforting confrontation with death,' The Stage ★★★★

'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.' New Welsh Review

'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.' Art Scene In Wales

'Cosy…wears its deep seriousness lightly; a tale of empowerment which leaves one deep in contemplation.’ Othniel Smith, British Theatre Guide

'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... 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' Dr Mark Taubert, Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff



'Kaite O'Reilly's dense, dangerous play ... has all the deceptive simplicity and hopeful despair of a Samuel Beckett play. As in Beckett, the characters are tragic and comic, heartbreaking and ridiculous. As in Beckett the joke is ultimately on us. This is a major piece of theatre’ Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

‘a powerful and important piece of work ... A minor feminist masterpiece ... Quietly groundbreaking’ Joyce McMillian, The Scotsman

‘humorous, sardonic, disbelieving, outraged, foul-mouthed, quarrelsome, defiant ... O'Reilly's dialogue has the punch and sparseness of the late Sarah Kane's suicide play, 4.48 Psychosis’ Benedict Nightingale, The Times

 ‘The spirits of Bertold Brecht and Samuel Beckett hover over Kaite O'Reilly's peeling ... and it's a teasing, provocative combination, this marriage of Brecht's alienation-effect sloganising with Beckett's sumptuous inertia ... a droll, self-deconstructing piece of theatre that is far too clever to be pigeonholed.’ Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph

'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.' 17percent


The Almond and the Seahorse: 

‘[In] Kaite O'Reilly's tremendous new play about the emotional aftermath of serious head injury…. extraordinary scenarios are tenderly drawn and powerfully realised… This unmissable drama…. confronts the uncomfortable reality of what happens to life, and even the most patient love without [memory].’ Elizabeth Mahoney. The Guardian ★★★★★

'bold and affecting…. compelling and emotionally charged…  O' Reilly passionately believes in the need to stage issues of disability in mainstream theatre. Her award-winning work with the disabled-led theatre company, Graeae, also stands testimony to this passion. But this play goes far beyond simply providing a platform for the playwright's political agenda: this is a powerful drama, beautifully written, which says as much about the universal themes of life, love, death and devotion as it does about disability.’ Alison Vale, British Theatre Guide.

‘Kaite O’Reilly’s powerful new play… Impressively researched, documentary in style, with the all too human heartaches exposed…. Superb.’ The Stage

‘flashes of brilliance… a fascinating work, totally engaging and a text worth delving into again and again.’ Western Mail

 ‘Dense and multi-layered… Like [Rothko and Satie] Kaite O’Reilly has complete mastery over a territory that is distinctively her own.’ Adam Somerset. Theatre Wales


In Water I’m Weightless

'sardonically funny….thrillingly vitriolic'  Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

‘a powerful piece of theatre, shattering any stereotypes…. In Water I’m Weightless – staged as part of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport – is a thought-provoking, beautiful piece of theatre which makes you realise that everyone is unique – and equal.’ Western Mail

‘[In Water I’m Weightless] ends with the almost Shakespearean monologue challenging the very definition of disability in the war-cry like rallying call of “You marvel! You scientific enigma! You medical conundrum…that both proves Darwin and disproves Darwin!” After witnessing this provocative and stimulating play, you’d be hard pressed not to agree’  The Public Reviews


the 9 Fridas:

'Kaite O’Reilly is one of the most respected members of the disability arts world, in the UK and across the globe. Her work crosses between mainstream and disability arts like no other and I am delighted that this long awaited collection is now available. It will be read, studied and enjoyed by anyone interested in excellent writing but most importantly these brilliant plays are crying out to be performed and introduced to a whole new audience.' Sara Beer, Disability Arts Cymru

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