Alone at last

Two lovers with intellectual disability slip away to a hotel room in Christian O’Reilly’s finely balanced play for Blue Teapot. Do they need protection?

Charlene Kelly and Kieran Coppinger in Blue Teapot Theatre’s Sanctuary

Charlene Kelly and Kieran Coppinger in Blue Teapot Theatre’s Sanctuary

Fri, Sep 6, 2013, 12:53

Sanctuary

Blue Teapot Theatre, Galway

***

“Now that I’m here,” Sophie tells Larry when they are alone at last, “I don’t know what I want.” As with many tentative lovers, this tryst has not come easily; they have slipped away from their peers during a cinema outing and have retreated to a hotel room. It is a union both comic and tender, full of desire and uncertainty, but the couple are not young lovers. Larry (Kieran Coppinger) is 31 and has Down syndrome, and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) is 27 and has epilepsy. In ways that even Romeo and Juliet might find hard to fathom, their love is forbidden.

In Christian O’Reilly’s finely balanced play for Blue Teapot Theatre Company, a Galway ensemble of performers with intellectual disabilities (ID), the lovers are granted their wish: some unsupervised time together, and the play delicately nudges at both the liberation and the risks of the situation.

In one revealing moment, for instance, Larry seeks a condom from Tom (Robert Doherty), their implausibly lax carer, but Larry doesn’t know how to use it. O’Reilly shifts the comedy into something pointedly serious: What are the consequences of treating adults, with agency and desire, like children? Or, to follow Larry’s concern, do they need protection?

Director Petal Pilley is asking similar questions of the company, in which performers with special needs are beginning to define themselves within the theatrical structures of assistance and supervision. Having collaborated with O’Reilly in his research, the cast have real influence on the story, and it moves them beyond less accommodating versions of Shakespeare. Whether or not naturalism is the best mode for the company is hard to say: the demands of dialogue require offstage assistance, designer Mary Doyle’s hotel room seems needlessly elaborate, and it restricts performers to portrayals of their actual conditions.

Within such verisimilitude, though, you may discover details both thought-provoking and unsettling. Sophie confides that she has been abused by carers, for instance, and though we hear of the controversial law that forbids people with ID from having sex before marriage, O’Reilly employs tact and sensitivity to suggest two sides to the argument. There’s much fun and distress in scenes of group flirtation and jealousy, but it’s the smaller moments that linger. The lovers are not alone for long, but in their unguarded conversation they establish something with each other, and with us, that seems more fragile and profound. They achieve real intimacy.

Until Jul 27

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