In Water I'm Weightless


A provocative look at the human body with dynamic staging that combines movement and live projections, Kaite O'Reilly's poetic, poignant and at times explosively funny texts are performed by a cast of six leading Deaf and Disabled performers with direction by John E McGrath and movement by Nigel Charnock. This radical, athletic production from National Theatre Wales celebrates the athleticism, diversity and skill of the company, whilst exploring the endless possibilities of human difference.

"…sardonically funny….thrillingly vitriolic…" (The Guardian, 2012)

"…Kaite O'Reilly's epic final monologue, a paean to the "gem of the genome", "the glorious freak[s] of nature" who "broaden the scope of homosapien possibilities" [is] worthy almost of Shakespeare in its rhythm and intensity…" (The Arts Desk, 2012)

'…This is a celebration of humanity, of the body, of character and resilience, in all forms… end[ing] 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, 2012)

"Punching right between the eyes from the first second, In Water I'm Weightless is truly an energy-packed, relentless spectacle….funny, yet tender; gutsy and still poignant, whilst maintaining its integrity for an audience as a highly truthful exploration of life with a disability … A must-see." (Disablity Arts Online, 2012)

First production
An Unlimited commission for the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival
National Theatre Wales

Director: John McGrath
Writer: Kaite O'Reilly
Designer: Paul Clay
Movement Director: Nigel Charnock
Associate Choreographer: Catherine Bennett
Cast: Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Kaina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone, David Toole

The script is included in Kaite's selected 'Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors' , published by Oberon


The Arts Desk
Dylan Moore
Tuesday 31 July 2012

Five disabled actors give an impressionistic glimpse of themselves

Adrian Burley MP would probably call In Water I'm Weightless "leftie multicultural crap". I'd like to bestow similar praise. In common with Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony, director John McGrath's exploration of issues facing disabled people is a bit of a mess, a bit of a tick-box exercise and thoroughly enjoyable.
The play is a rallying cry for the civil rights of the disabled, and wears its politics somewhat heavily. But despite some meanderings in the middle, by the time we reach writer Kaite O'Reilly's epic final monologue, a paean to the "gen of the genome", "the glorious freak[s] of nature" who "broaden the scope of homosapien possibilities", worthy almost of Shakespeare in its rhythm and intensity, and wonderfully delivered by David Toole (pictured below), there is a feeling that we have been confronted.

But with what? For the most part, the play is a loosely connected series of impressions: sign language, fragments of text, anecdotes, powerful music in a bewildering array of styles. There is little to connect these disparate elements but the fact that all of the five members of the cast have a disability. They are partially-sighted, deaf, paralysed or somehow physically deformed. Not too long ago, the only type of theatre open to these performers would have been in a freak show. In Water I'm Weightless is not without humour, and there is a moment of comedy when two of the actors discuss their recent roles: "always the monster", "misunderstood evil genius" or, "worst of all, plot device".

There is no such danger here, as the five actors are offered a rare opportunity to give us a glimpse of themselves, or at least a version thereof. Against Paul Clay's simple but effective backdrop of projection screen and giant globules, which act variously as thought bubbles, water droplets and bodily cells, the cast each give a fantastic account of themselves. "Don't patronise me," says Karina Jones' character at one point, and among all the familiar and less familiar things we hear that disabled people have to put up with on a daily basis – there is also a section titled "Things I Have Lipread" – this would seem to be one which grates the most.
Jones (pictured left) also has the pleasure of delivering some of O'Reilly's best passages, a layered metaphor about "your very being a warzone carried out at molecular level" culminating in the horrific image of "that fleshy Dresden", which nevertheless the character has learnt to love. Ultimately, In Water I'm Weightless is a celebration of disabled human beings – their bodies, their minds and their souls. And although it oscillates rather wildly between wigging out to the Sex Pistols and Shirley Bassey and reflections on perceiving other human beings in terms boiling down to use of taxpayers' money like the theatrical equivalent of a loud/quiet/loud Nirvana song, it succeeds far more often than it fails.

It is thought-provoking rather than attitude-changing, but that fault lies with us, not with the play. And of course, despite some kind of attempts, it gets nowhere near allowing the able-bodied to understand what it might be like inside the body of "the other". But that's perhaps the point: underlining the distance that exists, the gap that needs bridging.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the performance lies in a small slip of paper handed without fanfare to members of the press along with the programme. "Due to an injury," it reads, "Mandy Colleran is unable to appear in tonight's performance. The show has been reconfigured to cover her part." If we hadn't been told, we would scarcely have noticed. A couple of questions reveal that Mandy fell forwards out of her wheelchair the day before the show's run was due to begin; she is currently recovering in hospital. In the programme, a full-page picture of Mandy is accompanied by a Q&A in which she says, "I think a lot of disabled people are frightened at the moment that their livelihoods, their lives, their quality of lives are being slowly, or rapidly, eroded or taken away from them." In the circumstances, I suppose we should all be thankful for the NHS.


The Public Reviews
Emily Pearce
The Public Reviews
Emily Pearce

Rating: 4 stars

In Water I'm Weightless
Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

In Water I'm Weightless is the latest offering from the innovative National Theatre Wales that is insistent throughout in its challenge of the ways disability is perceived. Five performers (unfortunately Mandy Colleran was indisposed for this performance) each speak of their lives, routines and the ideals they hold dear. It is a bold piece, often stark in its ability to flip perceived public assumption, highlighted throughout by Paul Clay's simple, yet stylish set design.

The pace is unrelenting in its unpredictability; every time there is a hint that the piece may become stagnant, it lurches in an altogether unexpected direction. Lurches is the word though, as occasionally a little more cohesion between segments would have been preferable, but then, perhaps that is the point of the play. Although occasionally an elegant mess – it would be difficult to analyse a structure or plotline – it is nonetheless beautiful in its imperfection and one gets the impression that writer Kaite O'Reilly would have it no other way.

In Water I'm Weightless is uncompromising in addressing the different reactions to disability; from independence to ignorance, there are times when it is easy to be moved to tears by the anger, vehemence, as well as spirit and the sheer the joie de vivre that springs from the different monologues, but that is not what this piece sets out to do. Pity is treated with disdain; sympathy is revealed as patronizing – the play clearly sets out its agenda for challenging what the public might think is acceptable behaviour, often it is revealed as not.

It also references what happens when a disability is reversed; in this case Sophie Stone's hearing is restored. She describes the longing for silence and how even the heart pumping disturbs after years of blissful peace. Her defiant statement, "I love my body," resonates and returns many times throughout the play.

What sets In Water I'm Weightless apart is that although disability is the topic of choice, the play transcends this. The actors don't just describe living with a disability, they depict lives filled with emotion, circumstance and a vulnerability that everyman can identify with. This is a celebration of humanity, of the body, of character and resilience, in all forms.

The fantastic David O'Toole 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 with him.


The Guardian
Alfred Hickling
Thursday 2 August 2012

4 stars ****

The writer Kaite O'Reilly says that she maintains two careers: "the mainstream playwright and the less visible disability artist." Recently, that balance has arguably been reversed. Three months ago, Sheffield Crucible and Chol Theatre presented O'Reilly's LeanerFasterStronger – a provocative meditation on biological engineering that predicted Paralympians may one day overtake their able-bodied rivals.

Now comes this Cultural Olympiad commission for the National Theatre Wales, featuring some of the finest differently abled performers in the country. There's no plot, narrative or characterisation to speak of, though the point is simple enough to grasp. Despite all the advances made in accessibility and civil rights, disabled people still find themselves ostracised, patronised and feared. "We're a fire hazard. A drain on your resources," they state – and they're angry. Very angry. John E McGrath's production opens in high-concept mode, with much strobing and strutting to loud music that seems to suggest a catwalk show. Then the five performers (originally six – Mandy Colleran unfortunately had to withdraw through injury) take a turn at the microphone and tell their stories. Often these are sardonically funny: in a section entitled Things I Have Lip-Read, deaf actor Sophie Stone recounts someone saying, "Well, at least the phone bill will be small." At another point David Toole and Nick Phillips compare notes on typecasting. "I'm always the monster, the serial killer or, worst of all, the plot device," Toole complains. "I got to play a regular criminal once," Phillips replies, "but they had to change the line 'take him down' because of the stairs."

The cut-and-paste make up of the monologues can sometimes be frustrating: there is a tendency for significant points to be raised rather than developed. But there are some thrillingly vitriolic passages enhanced by the aggressive physicality of the choreography by Nigel Charnock, whose death from cancer was announced yesterday. Mat Fraser contorts his body through a spasmodic sequence of movements to the Sex Pistols' Bodies, whose sneering line, "I don't wanna baby that looks like that" sums up the show's punk-like ethos. And there's an arresting instance of table-turning when Stone delivers a long speech in British Sign Language without translation. Suddenly you realise how incomprehensible the world would seem if you lost the ability to hear. I couldn't understand a word, though the final gesture – a middle finger jabbed aggressively upwards – was enough to give the gist.


Disablity Arts Online
1 August 2012

Unlimited: In Water I'm Weightless, at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Kaite 'O Reilly's Unlimited commission 'In Water I'm Weightless', offers a truthful exploration of life with a disability, says Tom Wentworth.

Punching right between the eyes from the first second, In Water I'm Weightless is truly an energy-packed, relentless spectacle. Written by Kaite 'O Reilly (The Persians, LeanerFasterStronger) and directed by National Theatre Wales' Artistic Director John E. McGrath, the show manages to be funny, yet tender; gutsy and still poignant, whilst maintaining its integrity for an audience as a highly truthful exploration of life with a disability.

One of the greatest strengths of the production is its ensemble cast. Performers Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole (unfortunately, due to an accident, Mandy Colleran was unable to perform but hopes to re-join the company soon) perform a complex lattice work of monologues, chorus pieces and dance and movement sequences to a range of music, (including a wonderfully comic and sexy routine to 'Hey, Big Spender' by Choreographer Nigel Charnock).

The performers dig deep into the fundamental nature of disability and impairment, exploring the body as well as constantly seeking to question our perceptions. ("How do you describe seeing?" asks Karina Jones provocatively at one point.) The cast each have their own set pieces with Nick Phillips providing us with a central image: "In water I'm weightless," he tells us. However, the sequences are never isolated; but flow seamlessly.

Kaite O' Reilly's complex mix of word play, rhythms and imagery within the text provides the heart beat throughout the production, which has been developed as one of the Unlimited Commissions for the Cultural Olympiad.

Using the metaphors of war to give an insight into the way the body reacts to its own internal warfare through illness or disability is just one very powerful device through which the audience are drawn in, to experience a fresh, and often surprising, perspective on the unspoken, unseen minutiae of human existence.

There are lighter moments too. Sophie Stone's part signed, part spoken piece entitled 'Things I Have Lipread' is both warm and engaging (the production integrates British Sign Language – often in unexpected ways – throughout.) Even during the darkest and bleakest moments, the humour of the show shines through.

The show is always visually stunning. Designer Paul Clay has created a spectacular set (suspended balls onto which are projected text, images and live video as the actors put a camera into their mouths to observe the tongue.) Clay has also employed a large cyclorama which displays a wide range of images from diagrams showing how a Cochlea implant works to fantastically breathtaking video of actors suspended.) The costumes too are bold and designed to make a statement – and they do.

'In Water I'm Weightless' is ultimately a feast of textures. Seeking to question, explore and surprise, the production manages to do all of this throughout; holding the attention and being – to use the production's own 'water-imagery' – completely immersive. Most impressive of all, however is the production's strength to empower its cast, crew – and ultimately its audience. A must see.



Photos by Farrows Creative/ National Theatre Wales


Press Release - In Water I'm Weightless
Media Release

In Water I'm Weightless, which takes a provocative look at the body, will be performed in Cardiff and London by a cast of six Deaf and disabled performers.

In a dynamic staging combining movement and live projections, Kaite O'Reilly's poetic, poignant and at times explosively funny texts are inspired by the imagination, experiences and attitudes of disabled people across the UK.

In Water I'm Weightless is one of the commissions for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Unlimited programme celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport on an unprecedented scale. It has been selected to be part of the London 2012 Festival, the spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration running from 30 August until 9 September 2012, bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.

With movement direction by Nigel Charnock and Catherine Bennett, this ground-breaking production from National Theatre Wales celebrates the athleticism, diversity and skill of the company, whilst exploring the endless possibilities of human difference.

Six of the very best Deaf and disabled performers in the UK will be swapping roles and using intense physicality and dance to tell vivid stories of life as a disabled person, in this controversial production which brings National Theatre Wales to London for the first time. The production will be presented alongside the other 28 Unlimited commissions at Unlimited: the Revelation starts here (31 August – 9 September), an 11-day festival celebrating arts and culture by Deaf and disabled artists at London's Southbank Centre.

Writer Kaite O'Reilly has won various awards for her work, including the Peggy Ramsay Award for YARD (Bush Theatre, London), MEN Best Play of 2004 for Perfect (Contact Theatre), finalist of the 2009 International Susan Smith Blackburn Award for The Almond and the Seahorse (Sherman Cymru) and 2010/11 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her retelling of Aeschylus's The Persians (National Theatre Wales). Other productions in 2012 include The Echo Chamber (The Llanarth Group) and another Cultural Olympiad project, LeanerFasterStronger (Chol/Sheffield Crucible). She works extensively within disability arts and culture and is one of the patrons of DaDa (Disability Arts and Deaf Arts). She is a Fellow of International Research Centre "Interweaving Performance Cultures", Freie Universitat, Berlin, and is currently completing her first novel.

Director John E McGrath is Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales. Previously Artistic Director of Contact Theatre, Manchester, John trained in New York, where he was also Associate Director of Mabou Mines. In 2005, he was awarded the NESTA Cultural Leadership Award. He directed National Theatre Wales' inaugural production, A Good Night Out In The Valleys, in March 2010, and Love Steals Us from Loneliness in October 2010. He directed The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning for National Theatre Wales in April 2012.

Paul Clay is an award-winning designer and media artist. Projects include design for the Broadway musical Rent, New York, Shelf Life for National Theatre Wales/Volcano Theatre/Welsh National Opera, Swansea, and Commedia for De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam. He received the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards Best Design award for Perfect at Contact Theatre, Manchester, UK; the Municipal Arts Society Times Square Spectacular Award from Tibor Kalman for his redesign of the marquee and exterior of the Nederlander Theater, as well as a Drama Desk award, for Rent, Los Angeles. Other awards include the National Endowment for the Arts/ TCG Fellowship, and the Bessie award.

Nigel Charnock is and orphan and has become an adopted son of Wales. He trained in acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in dance at the London School of Contemporary dance. He co-founded DV8 Physical Theatre in 1986 and his own company in 1996. He was the artistic director of Helsinki Dance Company for five years, and now works all over the world choreographing, directing and teaching. He has written a number of plays which have toured internationally. Nigel now realises that all this is quite meaningless and so he spends most of his time laughing at everything and everybody and talking to animals.

After graduating from Rambert School, Catherine Bennett performed with many leading companies in the UK: Rambert, Random Dance Company, Carol Brown Dances, Aletta Collins, Walker Dance Park Music, and most recently with Siobhan Davies. She has produced and directed two films: My Desert and Things We Found. She has performed with Volcano Theatre Company in A Few Little Drops, What Am I Doing Here? and I-Witness. She has directed the play Attempts On Her Life by Martin Crimp and co-directed the devised theatre piece Shelf Life with National Theatre Wales/Volcano/WNO. She choreographed the movement for Volcano Theatre's latest piece A Clockwork Orange.

The cast includes: Mandy Colleran, Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole.

Mandy Colleran has been involved in disability arts for over 20 years. Her theatre credits include: The Mermaid and the Mirror (Half Moon Young People's Theatre) and Welcome to the Institute (Fittings Multimedia). Radio credits include: Walkie Talkies (BBC Radio 3). Writing credits include: The Alphabet Soup Show (BBC).

Mat Fraser is a multi-disciplinary performing artist and writer, working in theatre, film and television, live art, cabaret, neo-sideshow and burlesque, conference chairing and public speaking. He was a rock drummer for 16 years before giving up his invisibility and complacency in mainstream arts to become a disability artist, which liberated his personal voice.
In the last 16 years he has produced bodies of work ranging from blisteringly angry to cheeky and funny, ridiculous to sublime. Covering the history and re-emergence of freak shows (he still works in Coney Island's Sideshow every Summer), contemporary issues to do with the disabled body and its continuing insufficient, inaccurate, and often insulting portrayal in mainstream arts, working a lot with images of sexuality and eroticism, Mat has always been fascinated by reactions to disabled performers throughout history and the present, and he continues this work as he matures. Television work includes documentaries such as his study of freak shows and disabled performers in history, Born Freak, as well as an historical look at the drug his Mum took, Happy Birthday Thalidomide, and for his acting work in both feature films and shorter dramas, TV series, such as his leading role in the BBC's feature Every Time You Look At Me (2004), the lead role in the new cult action and first 'Cripsploitation' film, Unarmed But Dangerous (2009), as well as having had a character part of Will in drama Channel 4's, Cast Offs. His own written stage work includes the award winning one man play Sealboy:Freak (2001/2), and the infamously bad taste musical comedy Thalidomide!! A Musical (2005/6). His current international touring solo comedy show From Freak To Clique? is a very funny, provoking, and often offensively funny look at the history of disability portrayal in the media.
He is also a conference chair, host for one day business events, an after-dinner and keynote speaker, the title holder of the Erotic Award (U.K.) for Best Male Striptease artist 2007, an International burlesque MC, a writer of erotica, co presenter of the BBC's award winning disability website Ouch's monthly podcast.

Karina Jones has a BA Hons in performing arts from Liverpool University and an MA with distinction in voice studies from the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Her theatre credits include: several national tours for Graeae theatre company including: The Changeling, Flower Girls, The Last Freak Show and a co-production with Frantic Assembly and Paynes Plough entitled On Blindness. She has toured Scotland three times with The Citizens theatre Glasgow and Birds of Paradise. She was nominated for a Manchester Evening News award fro Best Actress for Crystal Clear at The Lowry Theatre. Radio credits include: two series of Solo Parent Pals for R4's Woman's Hour. Television credits include: The Bill and Crimewatch.

Nick Phillips trained at The Laban Centre of Movement and Dance in the mid-90s before returning to Swansea to work as part of several community theatre projects including pantos and dance nights. Thirteen years ago, he was in an accident and now uses a wheelchair. From then on, he shied away from performing with it all being a bit too "wheelchair weird" for him. In the past four or five years, after finding himself in a dance piece by mistake ("I was only supposed to be watching a rehearsal"), Nick has taken part in a couple of community dance and theatre performances including National Theatre Wales' The Passion and dancing again with the all male dance group previously called Dynion.

Sophie Stone graduated in 2008 from RADA; the first deaf student to have trained there. She has since worked in film, alongside Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn among others, several television roles including Olive Runcie in the ITV series Marchlands by James Kent, Holby City, Casualty, and ITV2 Comedy FM. Sophie has toured with theatre company Shared Experience on Mine, with major roles in plays such as Pandora at the Arcola by Alex Clifton, and various shows at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury. She also appeared in the iconic role of Kattrin in Deborah Warner's epic production of Mother Courage and Her Children with Fiona Shaw at The National Theatre. When not acting, Sophie is a consultant for disability confidence in the arts.

David Toole came into dance through workshops with CandoCo Dance Company in 1992. While working with them, he studied for a year at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, receiving a Professional Diploma in Community Dance in 1993. Six years of national and international touring with CandoCo followed, until 1999, when he decided to try new experiences. In 1995, David had his first taste of theatre when he played the part of Puck in Benjamin Britten's opera of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was followed a year later with an appearance in the Sally Potter film The Tango Lesson, playing the part of the designer.
David has also performed with Graeae Theatre Company in 2000 and also 2001, playing the parts of Edgar in The Fall of the House of Usher and Deflores in The Changeling respectively. In the summer of 2000, he worked with DV8, creating and performing the piece Can We Afford This for the Sydney Arts Festival prior to the 2000 Olympics. This show was revived in 2003 and also led to the film version of the show being made that year. Since then, David has done more theatre work, notably with the RSC in 2007 and most recently working on three separate site-specific pieces with the Leeds based company Slung Low. David now works as a freelance dancer, actor and workshop leader. He has just returned from Cape Town where he worked with Remix Dance Company, Lucy Hind and Dom Coyote creating a new work, Boundless, for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Theatre credits include: I'll be the Devil (RSC), Where's Vietnam? (Red Ladder), Blasted, The Iron Man (Graeae), Dodgems (CoisCeim) and They Only Come At Night-Resurrection (Slung Low).
Film credits include: Cost of Living (DV8, Lloyd Newson), The Tango Lesson (Sally Potter), and Amazing Grace (Michael Apted). Television credits include: Rome (HBO), I'm Spazticus (Channel 4), Outside In (BBC) and Naked on the Inside (Kim Farra).


Kaite O'Reilly