Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

"The Persians" in Print

Kaite O'Reilly Book Launch in Cardigan

Performance in Wales is a garden rich in bloom. Within its luxuriance are some enduring creative partnerships. Mr and Mrs Clark scored a hit at Edinburgh, as they have done before, this August. Ann Shrosbree and Bill Hamblett mark this year forty years of artistic endeavour. So too the fusion of Kaite O'Reilly and Philip Zarrilli has lasted many years in separate and collaborative activity.

Ann Shrosbree in her crisp introduction speaks of the delight in having the Llanarth Group “just up the road.” The visit to Small World is made up of workshop in the afternoon and reading-launch in the evening. Cardigan on a Saturday night is an event in a busy life. Two weeks ago the O'Reilly-Zarrilli pair were in Edinburgh, below 27th August, as one of three nominees for the 2019 James Tait Black Drama Prize. Their play was also incidentally the only one of the three from Britain.

Kaite O'Reilly admits that she is more produced outside Britain than within. “Peeling” has played in the USA this season. After Cardigan engagements in Vilnius and Singapore beckon.

Kaite O'Reilly also authors a blog that is personal, pertinent, practical. A recent entry said with truth:

“My mother always said that life offered a feast or a famine and never a steady balanced three meals a day which might keep our blood sugar and nerves steady. No, it was a juddering, shuddering rollercoaster ride, swinging from gluttony to a wafer and water diet, and I should always be ready for either.

“This year so far has certainly been of a generous rather than miserly disposition. I’ve been immensely fortunate with productions and commissions in 2019/20 and pause now, just post-midsummer, with my head spinning and my belly fit to burst. This, I promise you, is not gloating – the famine months will be upon me again soon enough...I am singing in the sunshine, but also trying to be the ant and prepare for the future.”

The evening event is to launch her version of Aeschylus’s Persians now published by Fair Acre Press. It has a reputation behind it. It won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry. This site praised the vigour and directness of the words that underlay Mike Pearson's production for National Theatre Wales. Of the chorus of four men: “In their agony of chest-beating, rage and lament Mike Pearson raises their combined voice, movement and gesture into a realm of sublime Dionysiac theatricality. “

A poet is best fit to offer judgement; from Gillian Clarke “the language is modern, the word-music timeless...a breathless song of mourning that insists on being heard. O’Reilly has overlaid Aeschylus’ timeless tragedy with a distinctively contemporary howl of pain”, she wrote for New Welsh Review, “Kaite O’Reilly chooses the iambic drumbeat of English blank verse, and a long-lined lyricism that befits an epic lament, the rhythms ring with echoes of Elizabethan drama.”

The hour plus of Kaite O'Reilly on Small World's stage is divided in three. First there is background for the play and reading of the verse. Aeschylus may have been in battle himself; his father and brother were certainly present. His treatment for theatre was revolutionary, not glorification of Athens but events as experienced by the vanquished. The text in 2019 is not quite identical to that which was performed on Mynydd Epynt in 2010. It has been dramaturgically revisited. Thus “Any doubt is traitor to our cause” has been tautened with the absence of the “any”. It is a phrase that rings with some potency in this week of political detonations.

The second part recalls the theatre event itself. A series of photographs show the FIBUA structure- Fighting in Built-up Areas- in the battle training zone. O'Reilly describes the resolution required to secure approval from the Ministry of Defence and adds some poignant personal detail. The audience included descendants of those who had farmed the land and had thought its sequestration was a temporary measure in time of war and that the land would be returned.

In the two days allowed for rehearsal on the site itself the space was shared with young men a few days before deployment to the theatres of war. The locations in the twentieth-first century are, she reminds us, territory that was once the domain of the Empire of Darius and Xerxes.

The third part turns to the work of addressing an antique text. The versions that preceded her own are legion. Her task entailed immersion into the work of many predecessors. Each, in their own place in the great chain of time, had made from Aeschylus a mirror to fit the timbre of their own age.

Translation attracts a wealth of writing on its aspects as both art and technique. Boyd Tonkin prefaced his compendium of last year “the 100 Best Novels in Translation” with a fine ten-page essay. His Olympian survey starts with Sebald and ends with Kis and Bolano, via a hundred learned pan-global stops en route. Tim Parks is the best-known novelist of our time who is also a regular translator. He writes a nice summation:

“You’ll never know exactly what a translator has done...reads with maniacal attention to nuance and cultural implication, conscious of all the books that stand behind this one; then sets out to rewrite this impossibly complex thing in own language, re-elaborating everything, changing everything in order that it remain the same, or as close as possible to experience of the original. In every sentence the most loyal respect must combine with the most resourceful inventiveness.”

Kaite O'Reilly is the most international of writers in Wales. Translations of her own work run to seventeen languages that include Cantonese and Mandarin with Farsi to come. She ends with the stance of the true writer. It is not to tell. “I'm here to ask questions.”

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
09 September 2019


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