Gary Raymond casts a critical eye over Kaite O’Reilly’s play Cosy staged by the Llanarth Group at the Wales Millennium Centre.
Kaite O’Reilly’s new play Cosy 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 (Llanarth Group) | Wales Millennium Centre, 8th March
Kaite O’Reilly and the Llanarth Group in Association with the Millennium Centre supported by Unlimited
Cast: Sharon Morgan, Ri Richards, Ruth Lloyd, Bethan Rose Young, Sara Beer, Llinos Daniel
Written by Kaite O’Reilly
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli
Find out more about the productions at the Wales Millennium Centre on their website.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, broadcaster, and editor of Wales Arts Review.