Writer: Kaite O’Reilly
Director: John E McGrath
Reviewer: Emily Pearce
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.