And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues
Tue 11 Sep, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Six figures slowly move about the stage not speaking, staring blankly, bodies stiff and zombie-like while eerie cello music plays. Are they searching for something? Acceptance, equality, respect, acknowledgement? They could be ghosts. That is what society can treat the disabled and deaf like. Like they’re not there. Invisible. This is the opening of award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly‘s groundbreaking, eye-opening work, directed and produced by Phillip Zarrilli. It deals with “difference, diversity and what it is to be human.”
On a UK premiere tour, And Suddenly I Disappear is a multilingual, intercultural, deaf and disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore. The fictionalized monologues were written by O’Reilly, inspired by accounts of the disabled and deaf through interviews, conversations and questionnaires from both nations. The end result uses a variety of media, including audio description, captioning, and visual and spoken languages including Cantonese, English, Mandarin and Welsh along with videos, music and sound. There isn’t a separate sign language interpreter off to the side, but British sign language was used throughout in this Llanarth Group production. Not every disability was apparent, but that’s part of the point. Giving this large part of the world’s disenfranchised population a voice is key.
The monologues throughout are superb. In a piece titled Anomaly, countryman Peter Sau excellently portrayed a ruthless businessman inept at personal relationships, who held a secret that secured his rise to power but could destroy his brilliant career if people knew. Throughout, artists Danial Bawthan, Stephanie Esther Fam, Lee Lee Lim and Deaf RADA-trained actress Sophie Stone were shown on screen (Bawthan beatboxed and rapped “This body is dangerous.” In Cured, he asked what do you want to him be? “I’m happy as I am.”)
One of the most powerful pieces of the night featured deaf UK-based Singaporean bisual language director Ramesh Meyyappan as a man discovering signing, only to be rendered mute again by two figures who forcibly keep his hands down. He tried to defy them but to no avail. Finally he gave up, hands in pockets, defeated and broken.
Guest artists Garry Robson and Macsen McKay, both British actors, also contributed vivid vignettes. Robson’s character went on a scary, rage-fuelled rant about the disabled he considered benefit scroungers that took you by surprise. McKay, a recent theatre graduate, gave a promising professional debut as a soldier who told about Nelson and Napoleon being handicapped, too, making them more fearless and strong. Local disability champion Sara Beer (who’s also McKay’s mum) was fabulous, delivering comic relief and range in monologues that included Can’t Do, where she listed things her protagonist couldn’t do – things you wouldn’t expect such as logarithms and homemade phyllo pastry. She also didn’t do apologetic for who she is, how she looked or how she made people feel. Beer’s been involved in Disability Arts for the past 30 years, the past ten in working with Disability Arts Cymru. Problems with care homes, carers, cuts and the horrors of freak shows, asylums and lobotomies – disgraces and indignities that many of the disabled population had and still have to endure and were subjected to – were also highlighted.
Every participant gave it their all and were completely compelling and superb. Myths were dispelled and lives laid bare. Attitudes are changing but chillingly, as witnessed in the ending of this important work, not fast enough.
words RHONDA LEE REALI