In Water I’m Weightless
National Theatre Wales
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio
4th August 2012
“Impairment, gives you an edge – you have to work harder.”
This is certainly true of the ensemble in NTW’s first show to present a cast composed entirely of deaf and disabled performers. In a big “up yours” to all the people who stereotype, patronise and try to hide the differently able, these five performers smash all boundaries and come out triumphant.
A complete feast for the senses this mash up of speech, sign language, dance, projection and music was sometimes frustratingly chaotic but always engrossing. To see disabled performers such as Nick Phillips dance to punk music with more energy than a hyperactive five year old dosed up on sugar completely shattered any prior expectations.
Innovative use of live film and creative staging ensured that this piece didn’t at all rely on the fact it had such an unusual cast. Images of endoscope scans and soldiers accompanied Karina Jones’ touching comparison between her body and a war zone. This was right on the brink of cutting edge theatre and the performers showed they are just as capable as any “normal” person.
The fragmented monologues and conversations gave quick glimpses into what it is like to live with a disability or impairment. A section entitled “Things I’ve lip read” added a touch of dark humour, “At least she won’t nag”, “It’s a shame more women aren’t like her.” Whilst this highlighted a lot of major issues and concerns without ever asking for sympathy – quite the opposite in fact – I wanted more narrative, to dig that little bit deeper.
A rare moment of silence, broken only by occasional wordless exclamations as Sophie Stone performed a monologue entirely in sign language gave the audience a true sense of what it is like to be the outsider, to be side tracked and not be catered for. Mat Fraser joked that he once played a criminal in a police education video, but he couldn’t be put in the cells as the station didn’t have facilities for wheelchairs.
John E. McGrath directed these inspirational performers in such a way that Kaite O’Reilly’s script came across as blunt, unflinching truth – even though they were not their stories or their words. As Stone commented in the after show talk, they are just like any other actor, it is their job to find a truthful presentation of the words they have been given.
And just like other actors this cast had to deal with last minute changes as one member of the cast, Mandy Colleran, was unfortunately injured the day before opening. This added challenge to chop and change the show at the last minute was met face on and the finished product was sleek and undiminished.
This outstanding night of theatre was beautifully topped off with an inspirational monologue powerfully delivered by David Toole. Addressed to “gems of the genome” and “medical marvels”, this rousing speech flowed rhythmically to punch home the production’s political and social message of equality and the right to own your own body.
Certainly not perfect but just incredible.
In Water I’m Weightless transfers to the Southbank Centre, London 31 August - 1 September - 0844 875 0073
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