Cosy by Kaite O’Reilly, directed by Phillip Zarrilli
Premiere: 8 March 2016
Venue: Wales Millennium Centre
From the Reviews:
When the lights go up at the end of Kaite O’Reilly’s Cosy… you might find that you have to pick yourself up off the floor and put an ice pack on your face for the clobber it gives you. This play … provokes and can reduce you to tears… And it does so, as O’Reilly does so well, through language… beautiful and sensitive… It will make your heart pump and your belly shake. A thought-provoking night that is not to be missed. (Denis Lennon, Art Scene in Wales, ★★★★★)
…simultaneously the most moving and entertaining script I’ve heard on a Welsh stage in years… O’Reilly’s writing is… breathlessly beautiful… (Sophie Baggott, New Welsh Review, 2016)
…a dark dark comedy, a Chekhovian family saga on a mainly bare stage… [I]t is Sara Beer who steals the show as Maureen, a brilliant and disconcerting comic turn that from the off envelops the play in a sense of the otherworldly. (Gary Raymond, The Arts Desk, ★★★★)
Good things happen when Kaite O’Reilly comes to Cardiff. Cosy is a tender meditation on the value of life... What immediately stands out… is its honesty… Comedies about suicide aren’t made too often but, in writing a very good one, Kaite O’Reilly proves yet again why she is amongst Britain’s best playwrights. And someone welcome back to Cardiff any time. (Jafar Iqbal Wales Online)
…Sara Beer gives one of the stand-out performances in this play, with her witty, funny and astutely observed thoughts on modern medicine, life, death, attitudes towards disabled people and also assisted suicide… (Dr Mark Taubert, Clinical Director/Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff, ehospice.com)
About the Production:
This darkly comic new work combines an unflinching examination of our attitudes to youth, ageing, and death, with an often hilarious and moving encounter between three generations of women.
— “It’s like I've disappeared. I walk down the road and throw no shadow.”
— “That's what getting older does for you.”
Rose wants an exit plan that is bold and invigorating, but her three warring daughters have other ideas. We all have to die, but what makes a good death? Everyone seems to have an opinion…
Cosy is a provocative, brutally honest but at times laugh-out-loud work that asks big questions about how – and when – our lives draw to a close. The production team and the all female Welsh cast of six includes disabled and non-disabled artists, creatives and producers.
The world premiere of Cosy at Wales Millennium Centre was supported by Unlimited which aims to embed work by disabled artists in the UK cultural sector, and shift perceptions of disabled people.
Rose: Sharon Morgan
Ed: Ri Richards
Camille: Ruth Lloyd
Isabella: Bethan Rose Young
Maureen: Sara Beer
Gloria: Llinos Daniel
Designer/Dylunydd: Simon Banham
Lighting Designer/Dylunydd Golau: Ace McCarron
Costume Designer/Dylunydd Gwisgoedd: Holly McCarthy
Costume Assistant/Cynorthwy-ydd gwisgoedd: Angharad Spencer
Musical Arrangements and Performance/Trefniadau a Pher ormiad Cerddorol: Llinos Daniel
Associate Producer/Cynhyrchydd Cysylltiol: Sandra Bendalow
Assistant Producer/Cynhyrchydd Cynorthwyol: Tom Wentworth
Press Officer/Swyddog y Wasg: Catrin Rogers
Produced by The Llanarth Group in association with Wales Millennium Centre, supported by Unlimited.
‘Cosy: It will make your heart pump and your belly shake’
Denis Lennon, Art Scene in Wales (11 March 2016) ★★★★★
When the lights go up at the end of Kaite O’Reilly’s Cosy in the WMC’s Weston Studio, you might find that you have to pick yourself up off the floor and put an ice pack on your face for the clobber it gives you. This play fights you and your natural urge to ignore the inevitable; it provokes and can reduce you to tears like any great fighter. And it does so, as O’Reilly does so well, through language.
In this new commission O’Reilly magnifies an issue we all want to stave off as long as possible: death in all its multifaceted glory – the only unbroken promise life gives. The story follows Rose, her friend Maureen, her three daughters and granddaughter, all of who have their own problems and relationship with the grim reaper.
Rose wants to end her life with dignity and self-possession. She loves life as it is and does not want to give way to infirmity. So she seeks the help of her daughters, all of who object to her shuffling off so early, for different reasons, despite knowing that she is unwell, and that malady could ‘take hold’ of her at anytime.
Through the various relationships presented we are provided with a domestic debate about life and it’s sanctity – either in the sense of preserving the memory of life, or holding on to it as long as possible even when it’s fading away.
This play brings up themes of familial love, agency over ones own body, end of life care, and perspective grief. These subjects are all interwoven into a beautiful narrative and straddle a line between the everyday questions of life and the uncertainties of death.
All the performers do well in this production with Sharon Morgan as Rose and Sara Beer as Maureen really shining through. Morgan brings a quiet serenity and sanity to her situation that beautifully sets the pace of the whole evening. Beer is bloody hilarious – literally. She provides a wit so cutting, that you are never allowed to wallow in the apparent bleakness that the stench of death brings.
There was once, maybe twice, where I felt the energy lulled slightly affecting the pace of the given moment – but this was only noticeable because the rest of it was so perfectly pitched. Director Phillip Zarrilli cleverly keeps the staging simple, giving enough room for the text to breathe and do its job. The set (Simon Banham) is provocative in its colour and simplicity. It is both abstract and domestic, perfectly suited to O’Reilly’s brand of storytelling.
Where all the theatrical languages of text, staging, and acting cross-section to epitomise the essence of the play and its subject is at Rose’s closing monologue. Morgan pitches O’Reilly’s heart-stopping words with grace and dignity that blows the final punch and knocked me, at least, for six.
This production stirs and questions our ideals of life and death in a beautiful and sensitive manner. It will make your heart pump and your belly shake. A thought-provoking night that is not to be missed.
‘Powerful disquisition on ageing, death, and womanhood’
Gary Raymond, The Arts Desk (10 March 2016) ★★★★
Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a dark dark comedy, a Chekhovian family saga on a Beckettian stylised stage that handles its subjects of aging, death and family with a rich and grounded intellectualism anyone familiar with O’Reilly’s work would come to expect. The production itself trips lightly the thin line that separates reality from a discomforting dreamscape, the waiting room – everyone is waiting, for death, for life, for family members to arrive. It as an ominous comedy.
Sharon Morgan gives a regal performance as matriarch, Rose; Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd and Llinos Daniel are excellent as the sisters; Bethan Rose Young has perhaps the most difficult task as the precocious 16-year-old who seems to learn nothing in school other than enlightenment philosophy; but it is Sara Beer who steals the show as Maureen, a brilliant and disconcerting comic turn that from the off envelopes the play in a sense of the otherworldly.
It is this otherworldliness that makes Cosy such a successful – and ultimately significant – play. What might have been a kitchen-sink drama is elevated, and the themes of humanness are lifted beyond the everyday.
We are meant to believe that this is a family reunion – and the interaction of aged mother, three grown-up daughters, and teenage granddaughter (not to mention Beer’s Maureen, a carer-of-sorts) is written with a snappy wit – but it is just as easily a haunting, a memory, a supposed reunion. There is something of limbo about the whole set-up. To this extent Cosy is an extremely complex piece of work that moves this simple family into the realm of Sartre’s coffee shop philosophers in his Road to Freedom novels – at one point the room hangs on the words “Iron in the Soul” as the lights go down, the alternative English title to Sartre’s Troubled Sleep, which might have been an alternative title for this play.
And on Phillip Zarrilli’s evocative staging of ten crimson wing-backed chairs, the themes are discussed: the sanctity of life, the mechanics as well as the morality of suicide, the aging process, femininity, feminism – (and it is not so much that men have no part to play on this stage, but rather this is a world without them, their absence is only felt on second thought – their only function is to pass on life, and to pass on death, from way back in the wings). This all feels so real, feels like a play in the tradition of Checkhov’s drawing rooms, of Ibsen’s frustrated females, but actually this is where Tiresias haunts the stage carrying her own blood in a bucket, where teenagers quote Rousseau and debate existentialism in sophisticated ways, where the homestead does not bring comfort, but rather is trans-inducing. The ten crimson chairs are manoeuvred about the stage, but always they seem to end up in regiment as if awaiting their Supreme Court judges to arrive to deny Rose control of her own body. Family reunion, one way or the other, always descends into judgement.
And it is in this sphere where the only failing of the play exists, in that the drama of the piece does not quite see itself out. The philosophising wins, and the story crumbles – although that too, of course, is just life.
‘Cosy by Kaite O'Reilly at WMC’
Sophie Baggott, New Welsh Review (Issue 110, Winter 2016)
‘Objectum sexuality, it’s called.’ Reminiscence of a grown woman in love with her car – a Fiesta, was it? – elicits dirty cackles from her sisters. Not the tone I had expected from Cosy, but a well-judged (and hilarious) balance to the production’s weightier matters.
This new play by Kaite O’Reilly explores the ageing process through three generations of women. Poor mental health and physical debilitation sear the core characters, but O’Reilly juggles dark themes with a light touch for the most part. Witty one-liners pierce even the more serious conversations, while light-hearted chatter is also dotted throughout the show. ‘Cosy’ is simultaneously the most moving and entertaining script I’ve heard on a Welsh stage in years.
The all-female cast members are each phenomenally in tune with their characters. Camille – or Camomile, a name discarded in her youth – (played by Ruth Lloyd) is a fiercely proud, materialistic redhead who adores and teases her daughter Isabella in equal measure. The teenager, conceived using a sperm donor, has apparently encyclopaedic intelligence (superior genes from the paternal side, according to Isabella’s aunts).
Relations between Camille and her sisters, Ed and Gloria, are frayed to say the least. Gloria is the wild child, whose crush on her car had been a final straw for Camille. The pair had been long estranged and their thorny reunion plays out to the audience’s amusement when mysterious circumstances bring the family back to the house that is now kept by the eldest sister and their mother.
This is a melancholy home; both inhabitants are weary of living. Even the vivacious Camille deflates soon after arrival and confides in her mother, Rose (Sharon Morgan), that she no longer throws a shadow when walking along a street. With age comes invisibility, she says. Often, however, Camille’s maturity seems outmatched by her daughter. She mocks Isabella’s aversion to make-up and pushes her to give blusher a go, before adding sourly that on women of her age it is merely ‘brick dust in cracks’.
O’Reilly’s writing is, at times, breathlessly beautiful. Without warning, bickering is wrenched into raw, soul-searching outbursts. Rose is desperately suicidal. She has lost any will to grind on with existence over the years since her husband’s premature death. She doesn’t want to deteriorate into a breathing sudoku, she cries, and insists on tattooing ‘do not resuscitate’ across her chest. While her daughters sway between feeling aghast and disinterested, Isabella jovially helps her grandmother leaf through handbooks on how to die.
Given this plotline, one might likewise have been aghast at the deafening decibels of laughter spilling out of Weston Studio throughout the performance. Yet, rather than cloaking ‘Cosy’ in gloom, O’Reilly’s play beams with black comedy. The sisters are wickedly funny in this cross-wired mess of a situation. The playwright displays a quite perfect clip of how families so often muddle their way through the most maze-like dramas with a ‘well, you have to laugh’ mentality.
Rose’s helper, Maureen, arguably steals the show. Played by Sara Beer, Maureen plods in and out with her drip and her occasional streams of resilient, ageless wisdom. She brings temporary calm to the sea of volatile tempers on this minimalist set: an army of red armchairs. These are initially covered in dustsheets – symbolic of a house unlived in – that are gradually lifted as the household edges back into some semblance of life.
Our glimpse into this family’s sagas rings bells that ring resound long after the audience has filed out. The main thing is not to lose heart, Maureen murmurs to Rose towards the end: lose your patience, teeth, virtue, handbag, but don’t lose heart.
‘Cosy tackles the difficult subject of suicide with comic timing and emotional depth’
Jafar Iqbal, WalesOnline (10 March 2016)
Good things happen when Kaite O’Reilly comes to Cardiff. Previous visits have resulted in critically acclaimed productions showcased by the likes of Sherman Cymru and National Theatre Wales.
For what is arguably her most intimate production to date, O’Reilly may also have produced her best.
Following one day in the life of three generations of women, Cosy is a tender meditation on the value of life. Despite being in great health, seventy-something Rose has decided she wants to die, and so her three daughters and granddaughter have gathered at the family home to stop her.
What immediately stands out when watching Cosy is its honesty. O’Reilly tackles an extremely sensitive subject with a matter-of-factness that is, at times, shocking. Suicide is discussed frankly, without prejudice and, crucially, with laugh-out-loud humour, giving it a legitimacy that is both liberating and unnerving at the same time.
Wisely, director Phillip Zarrilli lets the words and performances dominate proceedings. Lighting and sound do come to the fore during scene changes, the haunting ambience adding to the sense of monotony and slowly-passing time. During scenes, though, both make rare appearances, letting the actors take control.
The result is six exceptional performances. The characters are all beautifully developed, the natural chemistry between them all making for great viewing. Standing out from the pack is Sharon Morgan, as Rose.
Morgan manages to switch from impeccable comic timing to emotional depth instantly, without ever losing her gravitas. At times the text does become a bit clunky, with conversations dragging on longer than they need to, but the emotional investment in this dysfunctional family stops it being a problem.
As the play reaches its powerful conclusion, the audience is gripped. Comedies about suicide aren’t made too often but, in writing a very good one, Kaite O’Reilly proves yet again why she is amongst Britain’s best playwrights. And someone welcome back to Cardiff any time.
‘Cosy review at Wales Millennium Centre — “deliberately discomforting”’
Rosemary Waugh, The Stage (10 March 2016) ★★★★
“Well, doesn’t this look cosy?” says Gloria (Llinos Daniel) as she lets herself into her mother’s living room. Yet, despite the title, there is nothing cosy about Kaite O’Reilly’s new play.
Instead, all aspects sit incongruously with one another, from the self-consciously fashionable clothes warn by middle-aged Camille (Ruth Lloyd), to the clunky, prep school philosophy phrasing spouted by granddaughter Isabella (Bethan Rose Young) and, most of all, the different family members forced together.
This conscious discomfort continues into Simon Banham’s set design, which starts life as nondescript, dust-sheeted mounds, before morphing into blood-red lines of nursing home chairs that slice the space into disjointed angles.
Lighting by Ace McCarron brings the medicinal into the domestic setting, turning first spearmint blue and then a saccharine peach. Gloria, the most estranged daughter, is introduced in a blaze of red, while the increasingly frequent mentions of death turn the stage black. The production’s soul is found in the musical interludes by Daniel, which act as buffer zones between the fraught familial exchanges.
Rose’s (Sharon Morgan) insistence that her family must confront the idea of death is the ultimate un-cosy element. Her more didactic ruminations are lifted by Sara Beer’s humorous, subtler comments on assisted suicide and disability. Despite being a play about ageing, the youngest member on stage, Bethan Rose Young, gives the standout and least self-conscious performance. Fittingly, it is she who provides the sought after comfort during the closing scenes.
‘Play review: Cosy by Kaite O’Reilly’
Dr Mark Taubert (Clinical Director/Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff), ehospice.com (11 March 2016)
“I nodded a lot during the play, mainly in recognition of what I have seen and heard in hospital, community and hospice medicine over the last 16 years”
Where to begin to describe this play by renowned playwright Kaite O’Reilly? I’ll start by making up a word: ‘uncosy’ came up repeatedly in my mind with an ill-at-ease feeling delivered with unremitting pace throughout this play.
Rose is the matriarch of this family. She is an older woman confronted with the prospect of illness and a gradual demise, and she wishes to avoid this by choosing a form of suicide as a way out. Her three warring daughters have other ideas and many opinions are offered; Rose’s daughters, her precocious granddaughter and even the unusual medical miracle of a woman taking refuge in the garden. But Rose forces them all to confront and comment on her plans, whether they want to or not.
Cosy cleverly shines a light on three generations of women as they share the joys and humiliations of getting older and discuss their very different attitudes toward youth, ageing and death.
The set is minimalist and sparse. Viewers should not get distracted, but should focus on the meat and bones of this play: talking about death openly with your (dysfunctional) family. Three generations of women discuss the most prevalent taboos in our society today: death, dying, suicide, chronic progressive illness, assisted suicide and feeling tired of life. Many people would rather cross the street than awkwardly speak to someone they know who is facing death or a terminal illness.
The fact that this play is set in Rose’s home does not discourage O’Reilly from letting medical and social care penetrate deeply into this private sphere – intravenous drips and drip stands, nursing-home chairs and a visiting consultant geriatric psychiatrist form part of this unhomely set.
During set changes, haunting music accompanies the actors moving the chairs to different positions, perhaps a play on the ultimate futility of our lives: we are born, move things from A to B and back to A on a daily basis for no clear reason, and then we die. There are several moments in the play when members of the all-female cast question their contribution to life and what the point of it all was.
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli, the founding artistic director of the Llanarth Group, Cosy is also supported by Unlimited, a three-year commissioning and support programme which aims to embed work by disabled artists in the UK cultural sector, and shift perceptions of disabled people.
Sara Beer gives one of the stand-out performances in this play, with her witty, funny and astutely observed thoughts on modern medicine, life, death, attitudes towards disabled people and also assisted suicide.
Cosy dealt with the big ethical questions our society will face in future in a surprisingly balanced way. This balance is achieved by witnessing debates between people with very different opinions: they argue and argue, but this is portrayed in an informed way.
Advance care planning, advance decisions, do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation decisions (and tattoos) all get pitched in such a way that a medical professional like myself could identify with this societal critique – and not cringe, as so often happens when fiction tries to imitate medical reality. I nodded a lot during the play, mainly in recognition of what I have seen and heard in hospital, community and hospice medicine over the last 16 years. The fact that there are multiple complex back stories accompanying each character is for me not distracting, but represents day-to-day reality. There are times in clinical practice when I cannot keep up with the warren of complexity that accompanies a patient’s family and proxy.
I have no hesitation in recommending this play to my medical and non-medical friends.
‘Review of Cosy, Wales Millennium Centre/Unlimited’
Helen Joy, 3rdActCritics (16 March 2016)
3rd Act Critics gives budding critics aged 50+ the opportunity to see dynamic cultural and sporting events and get their voices heard.
Waiting at the Wales Millenium Centre to go in, I meet two white haired ladies. Both smartly turned out and happy to chat. Told to go out there and get a life, their first trip together was to London and The Phantom. They often go to the theatre and say they prefer the more challenging end of the market.
‘No Tom Jones for us’ they said. ‘We’re from Bridgend. We go to Cardiff and London. We go to what’s on at Porthcawl.’ Oooh, marvellous, I say. I always fancied that Elvis Festival.
‘I sang there’ says the lady in the purple velvet jacket. ‘Trimmed my white petticoat and wore my black daps’. ‘I sang here too – 500 of us on that huge stage for Tenovus – was wonderful.’ We are enjoying ourselves and the scene is set for us to get Cosy.
We are hit with a sombre set. Cosy, it says on the backdrop. Exquisitely mournful music plays, a woman’s voice breaks the air and it begins.
Watching these remarkable women enact such complex and difficult subjects – ageing, euthanasia, suicide, terminal illness and sibling rivalry with sense, passion, anger and humour was sobering.
Every word they said was repeated, emphasised, by the white light text at the back of the black smudged stage. Ten stark white cloth covered chairs revealed in their faded red velvet comfort by the arrival of the second daughter and her daughter. 3 generations quickly established and a strange friend lurking in this mother’s house.
‘I am a legend in my own diagnosis’ says Maureen (Sara Beer), the strange friend lurking. She is the jokes, the light touch, the kind heart finding the patterns in the confusion of a family tale.
Pithy lines grind at the truths this play exposes, ‘we used to care, now it’s a profession’ says Ed (Ri Richards), a sister.
‘I am the atheist who prays’ says Rose (Sharon Morgan), the mother who wants to leave before she loses control over her own body. She is ‘willing the light’, the stars and not the darkness.
This is not an easy play. It reminds us all that we are, perhaps, merely ‘ticking meat’ with lives played out in company, like it or not. It is, in the end, all about love.
I watch the two silver haired ladies leave their seats, arm in arm.
Othniel Smith, British Theatre Guide
Cosy is a play about death.
Kaite O'Reilly's latest offering has, at its centre, an elderly lady who may or may not be suicidal (as defined by the psychiatric professional whom she refuses to see any longer), but who is most definitely seeking to make an exit plan. The title refers to the kind of death to which she aspires.
In this endeavour, she gathers her family together in order to make them aware of her aim and to reach some kind of agreement. Needless to say, opinions differ.
Rose, played with serene assurance by Sharon Morgan, claims to be 82, but is apparently only 76—already wishing her life away. In relatively good health, she lives with her eldest daughter, Ed—Ri Richards—who is her apparently stoical primary carer.
There is also another presence: Maureen, played by Sara Beer. O'Reilly and director Philip Zarilli tease us into thinking that she may be imaginary, but the character is refreshingly real, with her own take on the situation; as she wheels her portable drip around the stage, she notes that her long-term health and disability issues mean that she lives in constant fear of being involuntarily subject to euthanasia.
The action begins as Rose's middle daughter, Camille—Ruth Lloyd—returns for a rare visit to the family home. A hard-nosed interior designer, she has half an eye on turning the property into a saleable commodity—but O'Reilly is too subtle a writer to make this the character’s priority.
Camille brings Isabella—Bethan Rose Young—the teenage daughter she has deliberately raised without a father. Isabella is highly intelligent but, unlike her mother, naive and idealistic.
The final piece of the jigsaw is Gloria, played by Llinos Daniel (who also composed the folk-tinged, ethereal music which accompanies the scene changes). She is hippy-ish, with a colourful past in terms of relationships, and it transpires that she has issues of her own to deal with.
The action unfolds on a set (designed by Simon Banham), which consists largely of a collection of red armchairs—initially draped with cloth, to suggest a space which has already been vacated, but gradually uncovered as the house fills with life. Much play is made of them being moved around the space, although the significance of this remains obscure (deckchairs on the Titanic, perhaps?)
In act one of Cosy, we become acquainted with the characters and their complex relationships. It becomes clear that Rose was always a borderline neglectful mother, haunted by her husband’s protracted death many years earlier. She takes Ed for granted, seemingly unaware of her daughter’s deep unhappiness. The sisters bicker amusingly, Isabella brings reason and optimism to bear and Maureen is always ready with a profane quip.
Act two begins with methods of suicide being calmly outlined, and progresses with all of the arguments over euthanasia being rehearsed. It becomes clear that Rose’s planning is not at an advanced stage; her resolve, however, is firm.
During the second act, something occurs which, although a comic highlight, stretches credulity somewhat. Nevertheless, the gently poetic dialogue and characterisations are otherwise believable throughout, Richards especially convincing as a woman who has long since given up hope.
Cosy is perhaps hobbled by the fact that its central character seems somewhat cold and thus hard to identify with; but then, this serves to keep sentimentality at bay. It is a play which wears its deep seriousness lightly; a tale of empowerment which leaves one deep in contemplation.
Cosy is published in a collection of O’Reilly’s plays, Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors (Oberon Books), and will tour later in the year.