Charlene Kelly, Frank Butcher and Patrick Becker in 'Sanctuary' by Ciarán O'Reilly.

Charlene Kelly, Frank Butcher and Patrick Becker in 'Sanctuary' by Ciarán O'Reilly.

It is rare for the stage to take on a romantic comedy with leading and supporting roles for and about people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Blue Teapot Theatre Company are of course in an ideal position to take this on, employing as they have done since 1996 a cast of people with ID who have performed in many productions including Cinders and A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Sanctuary, however, is Blue Teapot’s first play to tackle romantic love and sexual desire for people like the actors themselves. Director Petal Pilley asked Christian O’Reilly to write this play for her cast. Its closest forerunner must be the Abbey Theatre production of B is for Baby (2010) by Carmel Winters, which did not include actors with ID. (By some accounts Winter’s play skirted the issues it aimed to highlight.) O’Reilly’s writing and plot is fearless, but tempered with sensitivity in a beautifully measured way. O’Reilly spent much time with the Blue Teapot team before he wrote the play, and it shows in his writing.

Sanctuary is a brilliant insightful piece of work that enlightens and entertains. It also brings to the fore the amazing talents of Pilley’s first rate cast, who are all people with ID. The central focus of Sanctuary is on Sophie and Larry, played by Charlene Kelly and Kieran Coppinger, who persuade their care-worker Tom (Robert Doherty), while on a trip to the cinema, to break the rules and book a hotel room for them so that they can have some private time together. This space is used to explore their navigation through sexual desire for one another and the impact of this attraction on them – what they feel, what they want, what is not permitted and even, what may have surprised many audience members, the marginalisation of human rights. (It is illegal for people with intellectual disabilities to have sexual intercourse outside marriage.)

SanctuaryO’Reilly’s skillful and tender treatment of his subject steers the action and dialogue through every nuance of human emotion associated with romantic love and desire, including fear, shame and envy. Andrew, played by Patrick Becker, is the love wrecker whose jealousy threatens to reveal the sanctuary given to Sophie and Larry. Peter, played by Michael Hayes, is the reluctant love idol of Sandy (Emer Macken), who uses the intimacy of the cinema seats to make her play for him; during these scenes the play achieves some of its most hilarious moments. Matthew and William, played by Paul Connolly and Frank Butcher respectively, are the narrators of witty observations on the circumstances of the lovers' dilemmas, while Alice, played by Valerie Egan, gives a lovely understated performance as the unassuming balm to Andrew’s anger.

Mary Doyle’s set deserves mention for its inventiveness and its exceptional simulation of both a cinema auditorium and a hotel room, as does Jim Faulkner’s excellent scene shading with his lighting design.

In Sanctuary we are reminded that no subject is off limits to achieve brilliance in theatre when the ensemble is talented. O’Reilly’s script is adeptly balanced on the tightrope of humour and pathos and, while it undoubtedly stimulates enquiry (we are awoken to the realisation that people with intellectual disabilities are limited in their access to privacy, whether in care homes or at home in their own communities), it steers clear of proselytising. Pilley’s gift as a director shines through her cast.

In this production Blue Teapot have set the bar (and it’s very high) for professional theatre productions with roles for and about people with intellectual disabilities.

Breda Shannon

  • Review
  • Theatre

Sanctuary by Christian O’Reilly

4 - 13 October, 2012

Produced by Blue Teapot Theatre Company
In Blue Teapot Theatre

Directed by Petal Pilley

Set Design: Mary Doyle

Costume Design: Charmian Goodall

Sound Design: Morgan Cooke

Lighting Design: Jim Faulkner

With: Charlene Kelly, Kieran Coppinger, Robert Doherty, Patrick Becker, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Valerie Egan


Presented as part of the 2012 Galway Theatre Festival