Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Transformative theatre


Graeae Theatre , Various venues and times , February-18-02
Just as writer O'Reilly shoves her means up against each other, so she thrusts together he ideas and styles: I came away feeling new

I often come out of a play excited, less often I come out elated, only on rare occasions (and this is one of them) do I come out feeling quite so new. PEELING is a remarkable play – and its power stems, in part, from the mediums it employs to communicate – themselves stemming from Graeae's aim to be inclusive.

This is not a signed performance, nor a described performance, this is one complete whole and just as writer Kaite O'Reilly shoves her means up against each other, so she thrusts together her ideas and styles. The resounding clang of their collisions can be heard miles away: in PEELING the mediums are very much the message.

As you enter the auditorium a strange sight greets you. Two women strike theatrical poses in gigantic dresses that beautify, hide and imprison them. A third dress stands empty, the empty shell of an eaten hard-boiled egg. In the background (or perhaps foreground) dramatic music of a modern opera is heard – The Trojan Women. As you contemplate the tableau you are reminded of Beckett. Is this some strange End Game to be played - 'Finished, it's finished, nearly finished . . . .'

As the play starts you realise that the three women (the third has appeared, she's been off having a quick fag) are speaking Chorus in The Trojan Women, occasionally on-stage but more off than on.

The off-stage play (The Trojan Women) tells the story of women who dance with their children to their mutual deaths rather than be captured by enemies – the story has been updated to bring in references to modern warfare. In O'Reilly's PEELING play the women gossip, chat, bitch, row and even make soup. Gradually the themes of on-stage and off-stage plays blur and merge, the women are revealed from their costumes and their true lives and stories are stripped of their camouflage. The metal skeletons of their huge dresses become cages . . . . At regular moments during all this fleeting, haunting images appear on a huge screen.

However, O'Reilly's greatest achievement is to peel away our own protective layers too – the protection we give ourselves with our own comfortable, easy, all-inclusive liberalism.

Director Jenny Sealey has controlled her diverse resources with considerable skill. While her production may discomfort us we are never made to feel unwelcome. The three performers make a great team. They handle O'Reilly's chunky text with great ease, move seamlessly through the play's changing registers and hand out comedy in great, wonderful dollops.

Alfa: Caroline Parker
Beaty: Lisa Hammond
Coral: Sophie Partridge

Director & Design: Jenny Sealey
Costume Design: Kevin Freeman
Visual Artist: Mark Haig

Tour: 28 Feb-2 March Royal Exchange Studio Manchester, 14 March Phoenix Exeter, 16 March Merlin Frome, 26-26 March Mercury Colchester, 3-13 April Soho Theatre London.

Reviewed by: Rod Dungate

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