In 2017 Kaite O’Reilly received an Unlimited International Commission to create a new series of monologues with partners in Singapore—lead artist, Peter Sau, along with our co-producers, Access Path Productions (Nat Lim and Grace Khoo). Based on extensive interviews with Deaf and disabled individuals in both Singapore and the UK, Kaite O’Reilly authored a series of fictional monologues that became “a dialogue of difference and diversity”. I directed the world premiere of the Singapore version of AND SUDDENLY I DISAPPEAR with a wonderful group of Singaporean/UK actors at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, 27-27 May, 2018, with a special live-streamed performance on Saturday 26 May to partner audiences in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taipei. To see a trailer visit (2018): https://vimeo.com/user60159874/andsuddenlyidisappear
To view the live-streamed full Singapore production hosted at HowlRound, visit:
The UK premiere performances took place 5-6 September, 2018, at the Southbank Centre, London, as part of the UNLIMITED FESTIVAL, and then tours through 12 September to Oxford, Leicester, and Cardiff. The UK production was co-produced by The Llanarth Group with Access Path Productions, Singapore.
PERFORMERS (UK versio
On-stage ensemble: Sara Beer, Grace Khoo, Macsen McKay, Ramesh Meyyappan,
Garry Robson, Peter Sau
On video: Sophie Stone, Danial Bawtham, Stephanie Ester Fam, Lee Lee Lim
Director & Executive Producer Phillip Zarrilli
Visual Language Director Ramesh Meyyappan
Associate Producers: Natalie Lim, Grace Khoo
Lighting Designer: Dorothy Png
Co-sound Designers: Danial Bawtham & Bani Haykal
Videographers: James Khoo & Paul Whittaker
Stage Manager: Katie Bingham
About the world premiere in Singapore:
‘…Just like water, And Suddenly I Disappearis renewal; its representations are fluid and its diversity is refreshing. And just as in water, it promises to make more waves…. a call for the redefinition of disability and how it is viewed in society…. Striking…’ www.centre42.sg
‘…from frank to funny to downright dark, the production expanded the notion of ‘normal.” Singapore Straits Times
The ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly is published by Oberon Books (London) and is released in association with the UK premiere of And Suddenly I Disappear (www.oberonbooks.com).
UK Reviews and links for AND SUDDENLY I DISAPPEAR
WALES ARTS REVIEW
THEATRE | AND SUDDENLY I DISAPPEAR
‘Can I risk revealing myself?’ The urgency and anxiety of that question lies at the heart of Kaite O’Reilly’s And Suddenly I Disappear, in which the social and emotional vulnerabilities of individuals within marginalised communities are examined with disarming frankness and biting wit. O’Reilly’s fictional ‘d’ monologues, inspired by interviews with people in the UK and Singapore, explores the politics of identity beyond the abstractions of liberal hand-wringing. Her radical insight is that what truly disables a person is not necessarily any physical impairment or mental health challenge they might have, but the wilful ignorance, fearful hostility and patronising attitudes of a societal mainstream that would rather erase, forget or smooth-over difference, than accept it is an essential marker of the human condition.
During an impassioned, provocative and constantly stimulating production; O’Reilly and director Phillip Zarilli join the technical crew on stage, in full view of the audience, to operate multimedia equipment and facilitate accessibility. This stripped-down stage aesthetic self-consciously lays bare the mechanics of theatrical representation, and reminds the audience throughout of the fictiveness of storytelling. This is no mere post-modernist game; understanding the processes of manufacturing and controlling narratives is crucial to interpreting these monologues. They each hinge on a question of power – the ability to tell your story is, after all, having the power to determine how you are perceived by others. At the very least, it is the power to frame the discussion about your public self. The clear intent of And Suddenly I Disappear is to make visible those who have been made invisible within two prosperous nations, the UK and Singapore, whose technological advancements appear to run counter to certain regressive tendencies inside each country with regard to difference. The play also aims to make visible those excluded from the histories of both countries, which are bound together by the legacy of imperialism.
In one monologue, the quietly compelling Grace Koo recounts the history of an elderly Singaporean woman who was disabled as a result of the intense rigours of manual labour she undertook for her colonial British masters. Over decades of literally back-breaking work, the woman’s spine was malformed by the sheer physical weight of imperialism. She’s poignantly described as “one of the disabled ancestors our city is built on.” In this instance, disability isn’t simply a question of biological accident, it is a product of political and racist oppression. One of the many points of interest in O’Reilly’s ‘d’ monologues, is the manner in which various aspects of difference; disability, gender, sexuality, culture and ethnicity, are shown to be interrelated rather than separate and distinct – as one often finds in the tick-boxes of an equal opportunities form. A recurring theme throughout And Suddenly I Disappear, is how a relentless push for economic growth produces a materialist, consumer-driven society that grows fixated on homogeneity and conformity rather than plurality and diversity.
Economy of language and a deceptively simple, pared-down theatrical style are hallmarks of O’Reilly and Zarilli’s work. Lyricism is restrained, sentimentality is eschewed, and the poetics of word and image are austere. The dogged survival of generations of disabled people in the face of debilitating prejudice, both contemporary and historical, is likened to a river that “does not stop…always finding a way to go on.” What makes the work of the Llanarth Group so exciting, however, is their intellectual audacity coupled with sophisticated storytelling. Like many writers of her adoptive country, O’Reilly tackles topical social issues with indignant ire and compassion. But what makes her an important writer is that she does so with a fierce intelligence that has more than sufficient wattage to illuminate the big ideas.
The multiplicity of languages through which these ideas are discussed in And Suddenly I Disappear provides an extra layer of complexity. In addition to English and sign-language, Mandarin and Cantonese is spoken, and all dialogue is simultaneously projected in written form. Moreover, there are sections of the play in which words are provided as audio descriptions to accompany non-verbal scenes. One particularly moving example, features an unnamed man (played by Ramesh Meyyappan) who discovers the joys of expressing himself through signing, only for him to be slowly and painfully silenced by the intervention of two people who physically restrain his hands. Throughout these ‘d’ monologues, the hegemony and predominance of both the English language and the spoken word is frequently disrupted and challenged, so that we catch a glimpse of what a future might look like in which modes of communication are manifold and diverse. Zarilli’s commendably precise direction ensure that such polyphony and the interplay of ideas enlightens rather than confuses.
And Suddenly I Disappear demands that difference be celebrated and valued and not merely tolerated. It is at times bracingly impolite and savagely funny. Sara Beer is particularly impressive in these comic moments, delighting with an impression of a Chihuahua being whisked through town in a basket on a bicycle’s handlebars, or demonstrating nifty footwork with a few dance steps. The ensemble, however, is the star of the show; its chorus of different voices; Welsh and Asian-accented, speaking Mandarin/Cantonese, or Pidgin English, or sign-language, establishes a unity of medium and message for the production. Macsen McKay, making an impressively poised professional debut, embodies the cosy, well-meaning condescension of an able-bodied Welsh Nan; while Peter Sau portrays, with satirical relish, an egotistical actor ‘researching’ the lives of disabled people for a part he’s about to play.
O’Reilly recently published a collection of her works titled, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, and the audience at this year’s Unlimited Festival on London’s Southbank was appropriately atypical, with disabled people making up an appropriately large percentage of its number. The lived experiences related in O’Reilly’s ‘d’ monologues will no doubt have resonated with many in that audience, but that isn’t to suggest that her work will speak only to those in the disabled communities. These stories of difference – insisting on the visibility, and the reality, of people who have been ignored for millennia, and who are currently being ‘inabled’ by societal attitudes – will certainly have a particular relevance and importance for the disabled. Yet as explorations of difference, the ‘d’ monologues have a wider significance for those in society’s mainstream, they examine what it is to be disabled but they might inform everyone as to what it is to be human.
Kaite O’Reilly And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues
September 8, 2018 by Joe Turnbull
‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ written by Kaite O’Reilly is the result of a collaboration between teams of Deaf and disabled practitioners from both the UK and Singapore, funded by Unlimited (delivered by Shape and Artsadmin). It played Southbank Centre 5 and 6 September as part of Unlimited Festival. Review by Joe Turnbull.
Language is universal. It may be written, spoken or signed, but all cultures are constructed and mediated through language. And Suddenly I Disappear…crams in more languages than the latest Google Translate update. There’s English, Welsh, Mandarin, British Sign Language, Singaporean Sign Language and a splash of calligraphy, too. Languages act as a cultural signifier but also create barriers between cultures.
What O’Reilly seems to be subtly suggesting, by conjuring stories of disabled and Deaf experience from two ends of the earth – through this delicious cocktail of languages – that whilst not quite universal, there are many aspects of disabled experience which transcend borders, cultures and generations. That disabled and Deaf experiences are valuable but all-too-often overlooked aspects of the human condition.
And Suddenly I Disappear…is a series of fictionalised monologues inspired by the lived experiences of Deaf and disabled people in the UK and Singapore gathered by O’Reilly and her Singaporean collaborators Grace Khoo and Peter Sau, who both also star in the production alongside Ramesh Meyyappan (also Singaporean but based in the UK), Garry Robson, Sara Beer and Macsen McKay. Sophie Stone, Danial Bawthan, Stephanie Fam and Lee Lee Lim also appear as filmed projections from time to time.
Every single member of the cast shines like a constellation of disparate stars, sometimes in unison but not always in harmony. As a collection of monologues, the interaction between characters is minimal. A recurring theme is the invisibility of disabled and Deaf people across cultures and on multiple levels. The lack of interaction on stage amplifies the sense that these characters are invisible.
The only meaningful interaction (besides occasional asides for interpretation purposes) comes in a harrowing act where Meyyappen’s signing character is repeatedly ‘silenced’ by Khoo and Sau, just as he discovers the joys of visual language. By clamping his hands at his sides, he is thrown into an ocean of darkness, with no way to communicate. It’s not done in a physically aggressive way, yet feels like a heinous act of violence.
The use of both spoken and physical languages affords O’Reilly the opportunity to probe the bounds of the monologue. Some are highly abstract. Others deeply personal. Many are hilarious in exposing the absurdity of the ableist gaze of pity and condescension. The whole mess of life is on display.
But despite light moments, mostly provided by the understated comic brilliance of Beer, the overall feeling leaves us in no doubt as to how both Singaporean and UK societies have wrought unbearable cruelty on the Deaf and disabled community. In one monologue, Khoo speaks of how disabled babies were ‘left in the jungle’ by aunties, telling euphemistic tales that they had been sent to lovely care homes, for their own good. Several of the characters in this production won’t take these affronts lying down.
O’Reilly has obsessed with the form of the monologue for years, long before her 2012 play, In Water I’m Weightless,which used the same premise. Working within such strict parameters but keeping it as poignant and entertaining as And Suddenly I Disappear… requires immense creativity both in writing and dramaturgically.
But setting limits does restrict. I longed to see some of these characters collide. What would happen if Robson’s fiercely proud English patriot who thinks disabled people should harness some of that English stiff-upper-lip attitude met Sau’s magnetic Singaporean businessman who excels by closeting his difference?
Eschewing plot also asks for a huge investment from the audience in order to keep their attention. There is no character development or story arc to pull you along. This is the nature of experimental work, but as it was, this incarnation of And Suddenly I Disappear…was probably about two or three monologues too long.
There were several monologues that ended with a bang and the resonating hum of recognition from the audience was almost palpable. One of these moments would have arguably made the most suitable ending.
Nevertheless, the masterful artistry and integrity of this production cannot be questioned. It is rare to see a production which wears its disability politics so flagrantly on its sleeve and still stands up as a piece of art. Of norms, of preconceived notions of disability, of dramaturgical orthodoxy and most of all, of ableist notions of normalcy – this production is radically defiant.
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues is at The Old Fire Station, Oxford on 8 September, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester on 9 September and Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on 11-12 September.
Review: And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues, Southbank Centre
The much-needed refreshing take on what it means to be disabled – And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues illuminates the Southbank Centre ahead of a short tour
“There is no dis in my ability”
Honest conversations about disability are difficult to have. Just looking at the range of responses to last week’s announcement of a non-disabled actor taking the lead in the BBC’s new production of The Elephant Man (take a glimpse at the comments on this article, just a quick one mind, the soul can only take so much…) indicates the scale of the problem but also, crucially, how few people really see it as that much of an issue, the systemic way in which disabled people are othered in society.
Someone who does get it is playwright Kaite O’Reilly, whose And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues (the first multilingual, intercultural, Deaf and disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore doncha know!) plays the Southbank Centre as part of their Unlimited Festival. A set of fictional monologues that start a conversation about difference, about disability, by presenting the huge gulf in perception between actual lived experience and what societal conditioning tells you it is.
So a monologue entitled ‘Can’t Do’ spins off in a wonderfully unexpected direction by confounding expectation, another emerges as a visceral rant against those who wear the label ‘disabled’ too lightly, and clichés about macramé and basket-weaving are wittily skewered, more than once. This is done in a variety of media (spoken, visual, projected), in a variety of languages (English, Mandarin, Welsh, British Sign Language and Singapore Sign Language), and pulled together with a real theatrical flourish by director and executive producer Phillip Zarrilli.
The cumulative power of these pieces amounts to something really quite considerable, a dark vein of humour making way for something more thought-provoking, that shakes up some of those presumptions that we all carry. And you can’t help but bristle with frustration at the depth of talent that just isn’t being given the opportunities by mainstream culture to break through to become the bankable names that society apparently demands in order to lead major projects. Until then, we should be grateful that powerful, convention-defying work like this is being produced.
FOR ADDITIONAL REVIEWS visit:
Arts Scene in Wales review:
Love London Love Culture review: