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Kaite O’Reilly: ‘I’m challenging the notion of normality’

Kaite O’Reilly. Photo: Farrows Creative

Cosy premieres at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on March 8. The play explores different perspectives on ageing and end-of-life scenarios in a family drama encompassing three generations of women. Kaite O’Reilly is the writer behind the production.

You identify as both disabled and working-class. Why is it important to have diverse voices in theatre?

Theatre is the site where we gather collectively to explore what it is to be human. We have to have the breadth, depth and diversity of experience, rather than a monoculture or just a segment of society talking to itself. We need the diversity to understand what it is to be human because that is what theatre is all about.

Do you think it has become harder for working-class people to get into theatre in recent years? Why might that be?

Definitely. If I was young now, I could not afford to go to university and go into the arts. You’d be left with a huge student debt around your neck, going into a profession known for its modest pay. We’ve made a mess with our education and training system for the arts – traditional apprenticeships through the old rep system, or theatre in education and community theatre companies are no longer there. There’s a lack of value given to the arts in our society.

It’s no surprise to me that we see people from privileged backgrounds at the forefront, more able to be in the theatre than those from diverse backgrounds. I’m not critical of those people, it’s not their ‘fault’ they’re independently wealthy. I’m not complaining about that. I’m just saying we need that, plus the diversity; the grassroots, the working-class voices, disabled voices, the other alternative voices that are not part of the establishment.

Why did you choose ageing and end-of-life scenarios as the crux of Cosy?

I think it’s an endlessly fascinating subject. As a disabled person, one of the big issues and arguments of our time is assisted death. I’m torn between a disability political point of view, where we’re against the notion of any kind of eugenics or assisted death because we only have to look at our history to see what’s happened; yet at the same time as a disabled woman who has had a life-threatening illness, I’d like to have the option to be in control of my own death, if I needed to be. I think if I’m feeling this conflict, maybe wider society is. That’s the kind of fascinating area to start exploring dramatically.

Is the play more polemic or discussion starter?

I decided to write a drama in the seething, emotionally charged space of the family, so we can avoid the polemic. It’s people that all love each other, but all know each other’s weaknesses. The ideas are really rooted in the emotional, the psychological: the family.

You also have a book entitled Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors being published soon. Can you talk us through the title?

It’s a selection of five plays and performance texts written over the last 14 years, very much from a disability perspective and for an inclusive or disabled cast. ‘Atypical’ is an interesting term and one I’d rather use, as ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ are so loaded, so misrepresented and misunderstood – I wanted to expand the phrase a little bit. The texts are ‘atypical’ in style, form and content – from realist, character-driven dramas to post-dramatic performance texts – and written for all the possibilities of human variety. I hope I’m challenging the notion of ‘normality’ all the way through.

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