After 10 years of creating outdoor plays involving D/deaf and physically disabled actors (performing in spaces as unlikely as woodland and castles), Taking Flight Theatre finally goes indoors with this new version of Kaite O’Reilly’s Peeling, embarking on a national theatre tour.
First performed in 2002 by Graeae, it’s a play within a play. Alfa (Bea Webster), Beaty (Ruth Curtis) and Coral (Steph Lacey) are three actors hovering backstage during a postmodern version of The Trojan Women: Then and Now. Cajoled by an irritable stage manager (Erin Hutching, also BSL-signing), the world-weary trio is convinced they’ve only been employed to tick the ‘disability box’ and to add weight to the equal opportunities monitoring form. They yearn to be an Andromache or Hecuba, each able to recite those character’s soliloquies – all while waiting to deliver their own minimal lines.
O’Reilly is an extraordinarily poetic playwright who specialises in contemporising Greek theatre, so the Trojan Women backdrop here allows her to explore epic themes of war from a feminist standpoint. Yet it’s her more earthy, acerbic wit that hits the notes best in Elise Davison’s confident production. Subjects as trivial as celebrity gossip vie with deeply poignant questions about choice for disabled women, around their own bodies and children.
It’s challenging, but also entertaining. The action is BSL-signed and audio-described throughout, all as a natural part of the onstage action, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the strong cast to send up theatre’s right-on but sometimes cursory attitude towards D/deaf and disabled talent.