Kaite ‘O Reilly's Unlimited commission 'In Water I’m Weightless', offers a truthful exploration of life with a disability, says Tom Wentworth.
Punching right between the eyes from the first second, In Water I’m Weightless is truly an energy-packed, relentless spectacle. Written by Kaite ‘O Reilly (The Persians, LeanerFasterStronger) and directed by National Theatre Wales’ Artistic Director John E. McGrath, the show manages to be funny, yet tender; gutsy and still poignant, whilst maintaining its integrity for an audience as a highly truthful exploration of life with a disability.
One of the greatest strengths of the production is its ensemble cast. Performers Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole (unfortunately, due to an accident, Mandy Colleran was unable to perform but hopes to re-join the company soon) perform a complex lattice work of monologues, chorus pieces and dance and movement sequences to a range of music, (including a wonderfully comic and sexy routine to ‘Hey, Big Spender’ by Choreographer Nigel Charnock).
The performers dig deep into the fundamental nature of disability and impairment, exploring the body as well as constantly seeking to question our perceptions. (“How do you describe seeing?” asks Karina Jones provocatively at one point.) The cast each have their own set pieces with Nick Phillips providing us with a central image: “In water I’m weightless,” he tells us. However, the sequences are never isolated; but flow seamlessly.
Kaite O’ Reilly’s complex mix of word play, rhythms and imagery within the text provides the heart beat throughout the production, which has been developed as one of the Unlimited Commissions for the Cultural Olympiad.
Using the metaphors of war to give an insight into the way the body reacts to its own internal warfare through illness or disability is just one very powerful device through which the audience are drawn in, to experience a fresh, and often surprising, perspective on the unspoken, unseen minutiae of human existence.
There are lighter moments too. Sophie Stone’s part signed, part spoken piece entitled ‘Things I Have Lipread’ is both warm and engaging (the production integrates British Sign Language – often in unexpected ways – throughout.) Even during the darkest and bleakest moments, the humour of the show shines through.
The show is always visually stunning. Designer Paul Clay has created a spectacular set (suspended balls onto which are projected text, images and live video as the actors put a camera into their mouths to observe the tongue.) Clay has also employed a large cyclorama which displays a wide range of images from diagrams showing how a Cochlea implant works to fantastically breathtaking video of actors suspended.) The costumes too are bold and designed to make a statement – and they do.
‘In Water I’m Weightless’ is ultimately a feast of textures. Seeking to question, explore and surprise, the production manages to do all of this throughout; holding the attention and being – to use the production’s own ‘water-imagery’ – completely immersive. Most impressive of all, however is the production’s strength to empower its cast, crew – and ultimately its audience. A must see.
In Water I’m Weightless runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 4th August, after which it will play as part of the Unlimited Festival London’s Southbank Centre on 31st August – 1st September.