Renowned writer, playwright, and dramaturg Kaite O’Reilly’s most recent publication The ‘d’ Monologues is a collection of three separate works: In Water I’m Weightless, richard iii redux, and And Suddenly I Disappear (The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues). This collection, published by Oberon Books showcases O’Reilly’s usage of the monologue and showcases experimentation with this play form which results in some fascinating aesthetic significance, while simultaneously entering discourse with the concept of disability.
The first work in this collection is In Water I’m Weightless, a series of monologues written by O’Reilly between 2009-2012. Collected here are an array of different voices speaking on all aspects of disability, from perspectives on daily life, to more explorations of what it means to be disabled in pieces such as ‘A Short History of Fear’, which acts almost as a rallying call, capturing a feeling of solidarity.
Following is the second play, richard iii redux. This piece moves away from the expressive array of voices, and instead moves to the single actor, specifically Sara Beer, for whom this play was written. This piece consists of three different personas for the actor, who explores Richard III as a play, as a person, and as an integral icon for disability in theatre, specifically from the perspective of ableist actors. It is a provoking piece, acting as a reminder as to how disability in theatre still has a way to go.
The final work in this collection is And Suddenly I Disappear… The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues, a project which began in 2016. This collaborative work sees a cooperation between the UK and Singapore; an international dialogue surrounding issues on diversity and solidarity, especially in issues surrounding the social aspects of disability. Gracing this work are an array of fictional narratives inspired by stories and words by a diverse crowd of people identifying as disabled. As with In Water I’m Weightless, they are brief, yet intense commentaries on disabled issues. An outstanding aspect of this work is the diversity of language used, including verbal and non-verbal language, which results in a work that focuses on inclusion, and an excellent example of O’Reilly’s wider ‘aesthetics of access’.
O’Reilly sets forth the oeuvre of voices identifying disability, to then deconstruct what causes them. The idea of disability is completely broken down to the point where its social paradigms exist in contrast to the actual people who identify as disabled and are simply living their lives conventionally.
On a technical level, this work displays experimentation and innovation in order to explore, define, defy what it means to be disabled, giving this work a very clear aesthetic which becomes an alluring read, full of raw passion. For example, the first play within In Water I’m Weightless, ‘A Short History of Fear’, becomes a powerful voice speaking to what would be established as Other: ‘I speak to you: the useless eaters, the mongs, the spazzies, the shunned’. At its surface, it is an empowering piece; something that could be a grand speech for anyone identifying as disabled or othered. Yet peel away the lists and names, and you’re given a challenge to the norm. This piece also acts as exposition for the rest of the text, identifying current definitions of ‘disabled’, using these as powerful nouns, adjectives, to then transform these definitions which are often iterated as constraining, to then finding solutions to these constraints, in which voices challenge the entire systems set in place, and affirming that it is society that disables people, not disabilities.
Present in this piece as well as many others in this book, listing appears to be a preferred method of storytelling for the informed fictionalised stories of disabled people. Whether they are quick, snappy lists found in ‘A Short History of Fear’, or more narrative based listing in the Singapore ‘d’ Monologue’s ‘Can’t Do’, this form is prevalent throughout the ‘d’ monologues and acts as an accessible insight into the ways in which disabled identifying people are perceived, patronised, and devalued. This is an effective form of expression, especially for the sake of producing a microcosm of what ‘d’ means through the vast collection of experiences, insults, lifestyles, aspects of normality that has been recorded.
One of the defining aspects of this work is the lowercase ‘d’ effecting the core of this work. ‘d’ becomes a thread that connects these plays together, and similar to its mathematical counterpart, the Greek letter Delta, its common meaning is the change in a changeable quality. For this work, ‘d’ can mean a list of many different things, yet difference seems at the forefront of this, at a balance with diversity. However as its mathematical counterpart implies, it becomes the change of an ever shifting definition. This idea is particularly summarised well in the Singapore ‘d’ monologue work ‘This Body… That Body – Everybody…’ where ‘d’ is listed in a variety of forms, where the initial ‘b’ of body is inverted to encapsulate the myriad form of ‘d’ as disabled, detained, different, diverse… and the list goes on. ‘d’ sets itself as the deep mirrored image of the ‘b’ body, the conventional body, and demonstrates a significant alteration of this to a colourful indifferent difference to these bodies. ‘d’ is therefore what names the collection of works naturally and works as a strong thread that weaves itself throughout this work.
Aesthetically defining this work is primarily what O’Reilly calls the ‘aesthetics of access’, through the inclusion of (often overlooked) accessible components of theatre which include all audiences. This is established by multiple languages, such as Welsh and the four languages common to Singapore, as well as adding compound languages such as Singlish. There is not only this, but the implementation of visual language and captioning. Thinking about this work as a text in dialogue with a physical performance, the ‘d’ monologues can be perceived in a multitude of accessible ways, proving to be much more engaging than other, more conventional plays.
The ‘d’ Monologues by Kate O’Reilly is available now from Oberon books.