YARD is a meditation on conflict, set in the slaughter-yard of a warring family of butchers. It examines how brutal acts, ostensibly to end a civil war, can instead ensure its continuance into the next generation.
The first draft of YARD was written in a frontline town where Kaite O'Reilly was working as a volunteer relief aid worker during the war in former Yugoslavia.
It was co-winner of the 1998 Peggy Ramsay Award.
Images are from the Maxim Gorki production of "Schlachthaus".
The Bush Theatre
Director: Julie-Anne Robinson
Writer: Kaite O'Reilly
Cast: Peter Dineen, Dawn Bradfield, Kate Binchy, Ged McKenna, Aidan McArdle
The Bush Theatre (October, 1998)
“… A scathing eloquence…gives notice of a strong, fresh comic talent.”
Friday, October 9, 1998
You can't say they didn't warn you. Yard, the new play by Kaite O'Reilly, comes with a caution: "Not recommended for vegetarians." Set in the ailing knackery of a dysfunctional family of Irish exiles in Birmingham, it would at times test the stomach of the most committed carnivore.
Running up a presumably prodigious butcher's bill, Julie-Anne Robinson's production does not go in for the euphemism of replicas. Dead flesh dangles from hooks and is slapped, business-like, on blocks. The queasiest moment , producing a lot of defensive audience grinning, comes when the mother flourishes a dish of glimmering calves' testicles, mimes the gelding process, then briskly chops them up with a cleaver. And there was I, not even able to cross my legs, since, thanks to the Bush's uniquely uncomfortable seating, my feet were at that point trapped under the bottom of the woman on the ledge below me.
It's worth overcoming any squeamishness, though, for Yard, which, as the, er, joint winner of the 1998 Peggy Ramsay Award, gives notice of a strong, fresh comic talent. The play discovers the Catholic Rourke family in crisis. Supermarkets are swallowing up their kind of small business and the decline accelerates when the boss's treacherous, scavenging brother (Ged McKenna) decides to makes some money by letting the donkey sanctuary people in to "liberate" the family pet from the "death camp". The only way they can survive the negative publicity is by winning the Mastercraft Butcher of the Year Award. Yet the only available candidate is the firm's raw recruit (Aidan MaArdle) who, at the start, can barely cut the meat on his plate.
Da, magnificently played by Peter Dineen, is a great bull of a man who originally wanted to rear animals rather than slay them. The embittered wife (Kate Binchy), who lives on memories of what he was like before he took to beating her, has worked alongside him for 10 years without directly addressing a word to him. Now their daughter (Dawn Bradfield) is pregnant from someone anonymous encounter. O'Reilly's achievement is to present this world in vividly colliding perspective. At one moment, you see butchery through the eyes of Da, who likens himself to the "Creator's opposite" in some elevated reverse of Genesis, scorning vacuum-packed supermarket meat as "void of a sense of having lived". The next, you view it from the level of one whose privilege it is to wash the shit out of the third intestine of a carcass.
The script has a scathing eloquence: "Wouldn't give you the drip off the end of their nose, but if it has four legs they'd fucking marry it," is how animal rights activists are tenderly typified at one point. True, the overall shape of the play is not as satisfying as the pleasures that can be derived scene by scene. But O'Reilly is a talent to watch, as many punters will remark over their post-show lentil burgers.
“…The talent that Kaite O’Reilly shows is unusual: bloody, poetic, rhetorical, full of violent emotion, but civilised and savage. It is very much like Jacobean drama – but modern and in microcosm… emotional savagery…YARD’s virtues are so unusual, you can easily see why the judges (of the Peggy Ramsay Award) chose it.”
The Financial Times
“…astonishing…Irish lyricism and some imaginative writing about apprenticeship, love, family feuds and betrayal and you have strong theatrical meat…”
Friday October 9, 1998
Yard is an astonishing debut play of Kaite O'Reilly, a tense drama in a family butchery threatening with the chop.
Anyone who's read Alina Reyes' erotic novel The Butcher, or seen the film of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher boy, will get part of the picture.
Add Irish lyricism and some imaginative writing about apprenticeship, love, family feuds and betrayal, and you have some strong theatrical meat. Strictly not for vegetarians, in Julie-Anne Robinson's truly offal and well acted production.
“O'Reilly is clearly a writer with promise. She has an ear for lyrical dialogue, a strong sense of setting, and a vital humour.”
Tuesday October 6, 1998
A Warning: don't go to Kaite O'Reilly's new play with the intention of noshing afterwards on, say, a juicy steak or spare ribs. If you're squeamish about raw meat, you'll be feeling distinctly queasy by the final curtain because Yard - which is joint winner (no pun intended) of this year's Peggy Ramsay Award for new plays - is set in an abattoir.
It depicts a love-starved family of butchers who hack up animal carcasses while looking increasingly ready to slit each other's throats.
The slaughterhouse - designed by Nathalie Gibbs - ably combines industrial minimalism and menace, with its slash plastic curtains, gridiron drains, and hooks and choppers hanging overhead.
Directed by Julie-Ann Robinson (apparently a vegetarian), the cast's constant work with flopping slabs of flesh is both fascinatingly naturalistic and humorously gruesome. Finoulla Rourke, the butchers daughter (Dawn Bradfield), perfunctorily swills bloody water across the concrete floor in the very scene where she touchingly, briefly becomes the sweetheart of her father's new apprentice (Aidan McArdle). Meanwhile, Finoulla's Ma (Kate Binchy), brooding murderously on her husband's domestic brutality, coldly slices up some beast's flayed testes. This had some spectators visibly wincing.
O'Reilly is clearly a writer with promise. She has an ear for lyrical dialogue, a strong sense of setting, and a vital humour.
Peter Dineen looks perfect as the master butcher: a great hunk of fatty muscle in a vest, with bristling hair like some horrid prize pig.Scrawny Ged McKenna is particularly entertaining as the scamming tinker Skully Rourke, getting frisky with his brother's wife, and fitting the family's donkey with a prosthetic limb made out of a table-leg. Dawn Bradfield and Aidan McArdle are outstanding young actors as well. She arrestingly combines adolescent vulnerability and fierce spiritedness, while he charmingly and comically unites nervousness, tenderness and determination.
“Kaite O'Reilly's new play shared this year's Peggy Ramsay award and it's not hard to see why. It's a bold and beautifully affectionate piece of writing from the heart.”
Wednesday, October 7, 1998
The knives are out at the family-run Birmingham slaughterhouse when Fin Rourke returns home. Ma and Da - 'Bull man' Rourke - are so busy not talking to each other that they hardly have time to register their daughter's arrival. Da has taken on lovestruck dolt Rory as an apprentice, while scallywag uncle Skully is hanging about making eyes at his brother's wife.
Kaite O'Reilly's new play shared this year's Peggy Ramsay award and it's not hard to see why. It's a bold and beautifully affectionate piece of writing from the heart. Designer Nathalie Gibbs' meticulous and thoroughly sinister abattoir set is inspired, with its great wooden chopping block enshrined before a sliding screen of grubby see-through plastic slats.
The men are brutal (like Peter Dineen's massive, sweet-talking Da), feckless (like Ged McKenna's Skully) or idiotic (like Aidan Ardle's holy fool Rory). The women are abused and bitter. Dawn Bradfield makes a wonderfully sullen and volatile Fin, while Kate Binchy's Ma is a powerhouse of repressed rage.
“…a bitter and brutal beauty… The language and rhythms of speech - delivered in the all-Irish cast's lilting tones - regularly touch on the poetic in a script stamped through with quality and real gallows humour...”
Friday, Ocober 16, 1998
You are offal, but I like you
"NO CULTURE, no future, " opines Da 'Bull Man O'Rourke, head of the family-run abattoir. "We're the last of the Mohicans."
Kaite O'Reilly's grim tale of a Birmingham Irish butcher's heading for a chop and the years of family scars and betrayal it unleashes won't suit all tastes - the real meat hacked up regularly on stage will certainly see off the squeamish and the odd vegetarian. But look beyond the harsh exterior and there is a bitter and brutal beauty at the heart of this, O'Reilly's first major play.
While the warring O'Rourkes - bullying Da, razor-tongued wife Breda. Da's oily, conniving brother Skully and pregnant daughter Fin - tear themselves apart with squabbling, success for gormless kind hearted apprentice Rory (Aidan McArdle) at the prestigious Mastercraft Butcher Awards offers an unlikely, albeit temporary, stay of execution.
The language and rhythms of speech-delivered in the all-Irish cast's lilting tones - regularly touch on the poetic in a script stamped through with quality and real gallows humour.
The virginal white of the butcher's trademark garb also lends the play a stark, unearthy feel. This is enhanced by lightning that switches from harsh fluorescent strip one minute to sinister shadow the next, with carcasses outlined in silhouette behind the plastic strips bordering the action. The cast is uniformly excellent too. Peter Dineen as Da is a ringer for Robert Shaw's salty sea dog Quint in Jaws, a brute of a man and one as likely to pat you on the back as punch you in the kidneys.
There's little room for optimism in a script that fairly bristles with tension, but O'Reilly's characters all speak in proud and fiercely defiant tones, notably the feisty Fin (Dawn Bradfield) who dares the dreaming Rory to pity her at his peril.
Pretty it isn't, but if you like your meat blood red, there's a feast to be had there.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
Family strife is razor sharp Yard. Growing up the daughter of a butcher and working for a relief organisation in war-effected Croatia, Kaite O'Reilly is probably better equipped than most to write about mass slaughter.
In Yard she attempts to combine a comic tale about a family of Birmingham butchers, fighting for survival as out of town supermarkets threaten their business, with, you suspect, an allegory of man's capacity to instigate systematic pain on others.
On the one hand, our attention is focused on a race against time storyline to save the shop. in a bid of a lift its profile, Da (Peter Dineen) primes Aidan McArdle's apprentice boy for the Mastercraft Butcher Awards, an accolade, which would heap much-needed publicity on the business. However, as a history of family violence and broken love comes to the fore, we are held by the emotional carnage in front of us: the husband and wife team who have not spoken to each other for years, daughter Finoulla (Dawn Bradfield) , pregnant after being raped, and Ged McKenna's scavenging brother Skully.
The play's reduction of relationships to their animal origins has its roots, I suspect, in Pinter's The Homecoming, and the family's sense of place as a kind of gladatorial forum is as strong here as it is in that play. O'Reilly also displays a fine line in verbal menace, which is translated by some noteworthy performances, particularly from Dineen and Kate Binchy as his battered wife.
There are times when the metaphorical preoccupation with killing and violence does not connect with the rest of the play - I fail to see how this is about war, even though it says so in the programme. It remains, however, a powerful, and often very funny play.