LARRY AND Sophie have a thing goin’ on, but when you are a person with intellectual disabilities, finding love, expressing your sexuality, and forming romantic relationships are fraught with difficulty, and perhaps prejudice.
This is the background to Sanctuary, the new play by Christian O’Reilly - author of The Good Father, Here We Go Again Still, and the story for the film Inside I’m Dancing - which will receive its world premiere at next month’s Galway Theatre Festival, when performed by The Blue Teapot Theatre Company.
Sanctuary is a poignant, funny, bittersweet play, in which a trip to the cinema and a welcome break from the training centre, provides an opportunity for Larry and Sophie to steal away to a hotel room to be together. Now they are alone, what are they going to say and do?
The lead roles of Larry and Sophie will be played by Kieran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly, both of whom harboured ambitions to go into acting from a young age.
“When I was little, about three or four, my mum asked me what I would like to be when I was older and I said I would love to be an actress,” Charlene tells me as we sit in the Blue Teapot Theatre offices on Munster Avenue for the interview. “Much later I found out about the Blue Teapots and joined in July 2007. I love being an actress. It’s a very good skill for me. I do find it hard sometimes, learning lines and scripts, but I get courage by just going for it.”
Kieran has been a Blue Teapot member for seven years.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” he says. “I was in Dublin on the set of Fair City, as my dad’s friend plays one of the characters in the show and it’s my dream to visit the Coronation Street set. I love acting. I didn’t know what it would be like, when I started, but I always thought, when looking at the TV, if they can do it so can I, and maybe I might get to do TV and film acting at some stage.”
Charlene says rehearsals have been going well and the cast is enjoying working on the Christian’s script. “It’s our new play and we’re enjoying ourselves,” she says. “There is a lot of humour and laughs in the play, both for us and for the audience when they come see it.”
Opening a conversation
Sanctuary’s central theme is love, sex, romance, and intimacy in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. It is a subject rarely, if ever, discussed, and even less recognised by the general public as a reality for the ID community. The inspiration to tackle this issue came from Christian O’Reilly’s own discussions with Blue Teapot cast members.
“The company of actors at Blue Teapot gave me an insight into the world of ID,” he said, “and spoke courageously and openly about the challenge of meeting someone, falling in love, and beginning a relationship.”
So what are the obstacles that Larry and Sophie face in Sanctuary?
“Sophie is romantic and caring around Larry,” observes Charlene, “but she does drink a lot of champagne, and drinks in the bedroom, and she does freak out when she finds out that Larry has brought condoms.”
“Larry is looking for a bit of action in the bedroom with Sophie - or at least he hopes to,” says Kieran. “He gets the courage to try and have sex with his girlfriend but he’s a bit embarrassed by sexuality and the use of condoms and he is insecure about his weight.”
For the play’s director Petal Pilley, Sanctuary is an opportunity to “present a living tragedy that demands discussion, awareness, and a more enlightened response from our society towards the sexuality and relationships of adults with ID”.
For Kieran and Charlene also feel the play has the potential for “opening a conversation”.
“The audience will feel curious and wonder about certain things regarding sexuality and relationships - both their own and maybe about things they did not want to know about,” says Kieran. “It will be challenging and we hope to do it justice. They can see and know what it’s like. It opens a conversation on this topic.”
Kieran also sees that Sanctuary has a wider role in promoting not just acceptance of sexuality among people with ID, but in fostering a greater understanding of the lives and needs of the ID community in general.
“I know what it’s like to have a disability. I live that life, I understand it,” he says, “but I also get to live a normal life. I come here to Blue Teapot to rehearse. I watch TV, and listen to music. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy. It’s just the way life is. Not everyone likes to hear the word ‘disability’ but it just means people with special needs, and everyone in the company has one. It’s just the way God creates us. Accept it. Everyone is equal, regardless of skin colour, race, culture. Everyone is equal, they don’t have to be judged.”
The cast is Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Patrick Becker, Frank Butcher, Paul Connolly, Valerie Egan, Michael Hayes, and Emer Macken.
Sanctuary takes place on Thursday October 4 at 11am and 7pm; Friday 5 at 7pm (these shows are part of the Galway Theatre Festival ); Tuesday 9 at 11am; Wednesday 10 at 11am; Thursday 11 at 11am and 7pm; Friday 12 at 7pm; and Saturday 13 at 7pm at the Blue Teapot Theatre, Munster Avenue.
This production is not suitable for children.
For more information and booking contact the Town Hall Theatre (091-569-777, www.tht.ie/bookings ) for Galway Theatre Festival dates and for the remaining dates call Blue Teapot (091 - 520977 or see www.blueteapot.ie ).