An epic, post-modern production of The Trojan Women: Then and Now is in process. Stuck at the back, unlit, onstage, are the Chorus: Beaty, Coral and Alfa, three performers rendered almost immobile in their multi-layered, preposterous frocks. They spend most of the production waiting to say a few lines so that the management feel they have done their bit for "social inclusion". While they wait, they gossip and bitch, lie and heckle. Gradually devastating truths are uncovered which peel away their layers of pretence, along with the layers of their clothes. Kaite O'Reilly's darkly comic new play is about the choices women make and the things they hide.

“… a powerful and important piece of work ... A minor feminist masterpiece ... Quietly groundbreaking…”  (The Scotsman, 2003)

“… 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…” (The Guardian, Lyn Gardner, 2002)

“… humorous, sardonic, disbelieving, outraged, foul-mouthed, quarrelsome, defiant ... O'Reilly's dialoge has the punch and spareseness of the late Sarah Kane's suicide play, 4.48 Psychosis…” (The Times, Benedict Nightingale, 2002)

“… 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 interia ... a droll, self-deconstructing piece of theatre far too clever to be pigeonholed.” (The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish 2002)

“… powerfully forthright...acerbically funny…One of the most entertaining and provocative shows around this year…” (The Herald, Mary Brennan, 2003)

“…strong, eloquent and funny, the piece has a cumulative power…had me, for one, close to tears…” (Financial Times, Sarah Hemming, 2002)

“With Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, Graeae has finally produced challenging, accessible theatre rooted in disabled peoples’ experience….multi-layered and suffused with wit…If you missed Peeling, you missed a classic…” (Disability Now, 2002)

First production
The first production of Peeling opened at The Door, Birmingham Rep Theatre, In February 2002, and toured nationally, culminating at the Soho Theatre, London, in April 2002.
Graeae Theatre Company

Director: Jenny Sealey
Writer: Kaite O'Reilly
Costumes: Kevin Freeman
Lighting: Ian Scott
Cast: Lisa Hammond, Caroline Parker, Sophie Partridge

Second production
The second production opened at The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, in August 2003, before embarking on a second national and small European tour. Venues include Clwyd Theatr, Cymru; Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff; Theatre Montansier, Versailles, France; Warwick Arts Centre; Drum Theatre, Plymouth; Unity Theatre, Liverpool; Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster; Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton;Tobacco Theatre, Bristol and Project Cube, Dublin.

Cast: Sophie Partridge, Ali Briggs, Lizzie Smoczkiewicz



Published by
Faber and Faber Ltd (March, 2002)
ISBN 0571215947




Published also by Graeae Plays Redefining Disability, Aurora Metro Press
ISBN 0953675769


Buy Peeling at
Single text


The Guardian
Lyn Gardner
Saturday April 6, 2002

Recipes and Genocide
4 stars ****

It is quite a performance. Alpha, Beaty and Coral are three disabled actresses cast as the chorus in a production of The Trojan Women. They are the ticks on the equal opportunities monitoring form, "the right-on extras stuck at the back while the real actors continue with the real play". Three bickering women marooned behind a screen in ridiculous, huge, crippling frocks. Out of sight and out of mind. But in Kaite O'Reilly's dense, dangerous play they seize centre-stage.

As the story unfolds of the women of Troy who lose their children in the bloody conflicts of men, so in parallel run the stories of Alpha, Beaty and Coral and all the women of the world who weep for their lost children, victims of eugenics and genocide. The central images of the play are a laughing pair of children somersaulting down a hill into oblivion, and mothers who play the Pied Piper and lead their children on a merry dance to death, rather than seeing them slaughtered by an advancing army.

O'Reilly's drama, given a striking and cleverly judged production by Jenny Sealey for Graeae Theatre Company that integrates sign language and surtitles into its very fabric, occasionally seems to hark back to the campaigning feminist theatre of a couple of decades ago. But it is saved from being dated or over-worthy by the sheer quality of the writing, its angry wit ("Crippling up. The 21st century's answer to blacking up") and its mixture of the snug and the epic, recipes and genocide. Peeling 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 from a company that is refusing to be relegated to the sidelines, and it is acted with honesty and terrific chutzpah by Caroline Parker as the uppity Alpha, Lisa Hammond as the beautiful, bitter Beaty and Sophie Partridge as fierce, fragile Coral.


The Scotsman
Joyce McMillan
Friday August 22, 2003

SOMETHING strange happened to the lives of western women in the late 20th century. On one hand, we gained a level of control over our own bodies unprecedented in human history. On the other, society often remained ambivalent about the morality of those new rights; so that women have often found themselves exercising their new freedoms alone and in secret, and carrying huge solitary burdens of responsibility and guilt for the rest of their lives.

It's because it seeks to break that silence and to link the experience of modern woman to thousands of years of storytelling about the appalling decisions mothers sometimes have to make that this latest show from Graeae - a revival of a 2001 play written for the company by Kaite O'Reilly - is such a powerful and important piece of work.

The characters are three actresses with disabilities, all playing the Chorus in a Greek tragedy, which tells horrific tales of war and of mothers sacrificing their own children to prevent them from meeting a worse end. Meanwhile, in the between-scenes chat, it slowly emerges that each of these women has faced her own blood-choices on the reproductive battlefield; and that one of them, unexpectedly pregnant, is facing the toughest of all decisions.
Peeling is ... given a spookily eye-catching design, a superb central performance from Sophie Partridge as pregnant Coral, coupled with the sheer strength and radicalism of the original idea behind the play, Peeling survives some shaky moments to become a brave, moving and - for a whole generation of women - quietly ground-breaking show.


The Times
Benedict Nightingale
Friday April 5, 2002

Full, furious flow in the face of the grim world at war
4 stars ****

A strange sight hits you as you enter the Soho Theatre. In front of a screen advertising a showing of The Trojan Women are three vast, silvery, ball- gowns out of which peer three female heads. Is Kaite O'Reilly, author of Peeling, about to rip off Beckett's Play, throughout which the characters are trapped in funeral urns? Well, what follows sometimes has the old Irishman's stark power; but no, that's not it.

The heads belong to three members of Graeae, which (as the programme says) is 'Britain's leading theatre company of people with physical and sensory impairments". Caroline Parker is deaf, though you wouldn't guess it from her flawless articulacy and unerring accuracy with cues. Lisa Hammond has a majestic head and an ungrown body. Sophie Partridge, when she emerges from that engulfing dress, turns out to be a human doll in an electric wheelchair.
I wouldn't labour this if it weren't relevant to a remarkably elaborate, imaginative and hard-hitting piece. These young women are alternately disabled people; actresses wondering if they or some computer-shrunk versions of Penelope Cruz will land the plum parts in the next horror film; the chorus in an updated version of The Trojan Women; and extras watching conventional performers stage Euripides's grim attack on war. Often the lines between these roles blur, and they seem to be all of them at once.

If that sounds tricksy, they know it, jokily accusing themselves of being "post-modern" and the like. But the complexity serves a purpose, since O'Reilly's capsule intention is to ask tough questions about a world where children are reguIarly slaughtered, aborted because of rogue genes, abused, rejected, sterilised, made to feel they shouldn't have been born. And if that sounds self- pitying, the impression given by these three women is the very opposite: humorous, sardonic, disbelieving, outraged, foul-mouthed, quarrelsome, defiant. Why, I can now do the f-word in sign-language.

Their dialogue wanders from the anecdotal - what about that time when they were trapped backstage during a fire scare while playing insects in Kafka's Metamorphosis in Watford? - to the upsetting. Hammond's fierce Beaty recalls her vindictive joy when she buried the guilt-mongering mother who hadn't expected her to live beyond 20. The same character lapses into bitter silence after describing how she was cajoled into giving away her baby. But we're never allowed to forget for long that Euripides's Trojan War is in effect continuing to this day.
Violent imagery of planes, guns, bodies on the backscreen emphasises this, but not as effectively as O'Reilly's dialogue, which sometimes has the punch and spareness of the late Sarah Kane's suicide-play, 4:48 Psychosis. "Rape as a war tactic, babies' heads split open like conkers," the cast laments. "Teeth bared. eyes rolled back, mamas precious, future joy, gone forever "they add. "Women. children, War," they repeat.

The piece could, I suppose, be accused of equating shootings in Bosnian football stadiums, hangings in central Africa, and the other contemporary atrocities it evokes, with the pains of being British and disabled. But that’s far from the effect when these women, their dresses now turned blood red, are in full, furious flow. "I should have let you die in the womb rather than let you die by suicide bomb in a crowded discotheque": a pretty pointed cry from the Middle East now. don't you think?


The Daily Telegraph
Dominic Cavendish
Thursday April 9, 2002

Provocative chorus of disapproval

The spirits of Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett hover over Kaite O'Reilly's Peeling, a play about women, war and eugenics specially written for Graeae ('Britain's leading theatre company of people with physical and sensory impairments," as they put it).

Jenny Sealey's astute production projects O'Reilly's entire script on to a backscreen. You can read it while it's being delivered, complete with stage directions and sporadic sign interpretations, by a cast of three women, first seen up to their necks in giant hoop skirts, looking like a set of oversized blancmanges. It's a teasing, provocative combination, this marriage of Brecht's alienation-effect sloganising with Beckett's sumptuous inertia. The basic need to surtitle/audio describe the performance and suit the action to the performers' capabilities is thus worked into a droll, self-deconstructing piece of theatre that is far too clever to be pigeonholed.

Alfa, Beatyand Coral are the bickering chorus members of a modern-day production of Euripides's The Trojan Women. Whenever they're out of character, the actresses show themselves far from bothered by the words of the wailing widows: "Every night this bloody play," one of them moans.

Gradually, however, O'Reilly forges links between the recounted cataclysm of war and the acidic thespian banter. Each of the women nurses a story of heartbreak. Coral (Sophie Partridge), confined to a wheelchair and as small as a 10-month-old baby, says she's pregnant but doesn't want her offspring to go through the life she's had; Alfa (Caroline Parker), who’s deaf, had an abortion and 4ft tall Beaty (Lisa Harnmond) was pressurised into giving up her child for adoption.

Just as women in war are pushed to the background, so this trio are confined to the margins of theatre and society. It may sound worthy, but it never feels that way. The scriptedness of the experience is a measure of how far removed the players are from able-bodied spectators only a few feet away, but, it's also a shared game that brings everyone closer.


The Herald
Mary Brennan

4 stars ****

Always the extra, never the star. As Peeling begins to do what the title promises, stripping away layer after layer of hopes and secrets, the audience discovers it’s not just theatre directors who keep Beaty, Coral and Alfa tucked away from the limelight and the leading roles. Society constantly pushes them to one side, deeming them unsuitable for certain roles and opportunities.

This powerfully forthright Graeae production packs its punch with fine cunning. It starts off as an acerbically funny exchange of bitchy remarks among three actresses marooned inside their absurd costumes. They’re the chorus in a post-modern version of The Trojan Women, a drama that increasingly acts as a bitter-sweet counterpoint to their own lives. They got the gig by, in their own words, “playing the disability card” – their involvement is a tokenistic gesture towards equal opportunities. Only, as the talk turns to their past and private lives, it’s clear that the opportunities are never really equal. One of the most entertaining and provocative shows around this year.


“…fascinating…impressive…reveals a tragic universal condition…”
Patrick Marmion, Evening Standard, Friday 5 April 2002



“…strong, eloquent and funny, the piece has a cumulative power…had me, for one, close to tears…”
Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, Thursday April 11 2002


“…This is vicious, intelligent, captivating theatre and deserves to be seen…”
Clare Allfree, Metro, Monday April 8 2002



“…dry and pungent with a bitter twist….This intriguing reflection on disability and performance [and] the ethics and aesthetics of appearance…an absorbing theatrical form…What’s most fascinating…is the use of the linguistic diversity that people with disabilities often have to master …The fecundity and inventiveness of its many languages counterbalance the stark, sometimes horrific imagery, giving us a depiction of death and sterility that is vivid and abundant….”
Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times, Friday 24 October 2003



“…a show of great power and ingenuity…ground-breaking and boldly new…”
Birmingham Post, 2002


“..Tough drama…trawls a coil of barbed wire through the emotions…”
Birmingham Evening News



“With Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, Graeae has finally produced challenging, accessible theatre rooted in disabled peoples’ experience….multi-layered and suffused with wit…Disability issues are aired. These emerge through the characters as they talk from experience, rather than using politically prepared lines. It leads to some pretty challenging viewpoints, if judged against the disability movement’s orthodoxy. But I for one think the play was better for that…If you missed Peeling, you missed a classic…”
Ruth Bailey, Disability Now, May 2002



“…a major and thought-provoking play. I hope there is more to come…”
Katherine Walsh, Disability Arts In London, Autumn 2003 issue 179



“…This remarkable play….the wonder and all embracing emotion and near perfect creativity of the piece held me tightly until the end when I exploded with humility and exhilaration!….There are so many moments of tenderness, great humanity and delicacy…inspirational to watch…I have never previously seen the crafts of theatricality so effectively used to strengthen and underpin the overall statement of the play…the choice of phrase and rhythms give this work its strength and uniqueness… The phrase ‘everyone muct see this play’ has been overworked and exaggerated, but it will never, ever be truer and after Peeling is has become redundant!”
Michael Kelligan,, September 19 2003



“There is much to recommend the excellent and very human silliness of this Graeae production…a comedy of sex, absurdity, manners and a strange darkness….Yes, it does all the usual things theatre does (see the disabled in a new light, make you re-examine yourself, etc) but while doing that it is also interesting and worthwhile of itself…super. 4/5.”
This Weeks website review – Edinburgh Fringe 2002.



“I often come out of a play excited, less often I come out elated, only on rare occasions – and this is one – do I come out feeling quite so new. PEELING is a remarkable play…”
Rod Dungate,, 18 February 2002.



Photos by Patrick Baldwin

books, playsKaite O'Reilly