Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 19 October 2019

Gym Swim Party, O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin: Stars off with an elegant dive but soon flounders

Gym Swim Party, O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin  Run concluded

Collapsible: Breffni Holahan catches the awkward, funny, crisis-ridden essence of Essie
Collapsible: Breffni Holahan catches the awkward, funny, crisis-ridden essence of Essie

Katy Hayes

It's hard to know who to credit/blame for this. There is no writer listed, instead there are two creators, Danielle Galligan and Gavin Kostick. There are three directors, Eddie Kay, Megan Kennedy and Louise Lowe. Sometimes a group effort can pay off, but this pool-set drama which starts off with an elegant dive, soon flounders.

The show is about a turf war between two rival Dublin gyms, the Trojan and the Swan. A Greek drama pastiche has been grafted on to this scenario in a most unfocussed manner. The characters have names like Aggie (Agamemnon) Cass (Cassandra) and Clem (Clytemnestra) echoing Greek originals. The basic story has elements of a variety of Greek dramas, with themes of territorial conquest, dynastic usurpation and the rejection of a long-standing wife in favour of a younger model. The action all leads to vengeance and bloodshed.

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The turf war is initially played for laughs with John Doran as Lug, the umpire, creating a high-energy atmosphere to open the action. The feats involve throwing grapes into mouths and lassooing rivals with hula hoops. But this comic opening dissipates and the script becomes more ponderous and gets bogged down in monologue. Ian Toner plays the thinly characterised Aggy, the leader of the Swan gym. Kate Gilmore is Cass, a Trojan, who falls in love with him during the turf war; Cass delivers lines in the third person, perhaps as a nod to Cassandra's prophetic powers, but it doesn't advance the story or character at all. Danielle Galligan does better with the part of Clem, whose dramatic function as spurned wife seems more comprehensively worked out.

This was a sturdy idea, and it's easy to see why the concept attracted high-calibre artists. Many aspects of the production are strong: Maree Kearns' set and costume designs are outstanding, with bold and brilliant flashes of colour placed against the cold-tiled shell of an empty swimming pool. The movement and dance are eye-catching; interesting shapes are made by bodies against the set and a sequence involving only visible legs is particularly arresting in an enjoyably kitsch way. Denis Clohessy's sound design pumps up the drama with beguiling modern compositions and finely judged amplification.

It's disappointing that the show says little about modern gym culture, a subject rich in possibility. Instead, it relies overly on dramatic props that were invented several millennia ago. It ends up as a Greek drama salad, but without any persuasive contemporary aspect.


Existentialism in the age of internet

Collapsible Peacock Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Beckett meets Fleabag in this new play of intense millennial self-consciousness from Margaret Perry. Essie has recently lost her job and her girlfriend. We meet her as she embarks on a series of encounters to assemble a list of words to describe herself; it is preparation for job-seeking.

She meets her Dad, her sister Maura, her friends Liz and Caroline. Her personality is difficult and self-sabotaging. She attends job interviews of increasing hilarity and absurdity. There is the painful murmur of lost romance throughout.

Performed on a high, narrow plinth, the precariousness of identity is represented visually in Alison Neighbour's jagged, rocky set. Director Thomas Martin brings a confident command to the accumulating intensities. Lighting by Alex Fernandes adds a substantial layer of mood and drama to the visually striking figure of Breffni Holahan, clad in a white top and red skirted pants. Holahan catches the awkward, funny, crisis-ridden essence of Essie.

As the personal concerns of job, family, romance become subsumed into an emotional inferno of abstract isolation in the age of the internet, the performance is outstanding. This thought-provoking encounter with a singular consciousness has a sparkling immediacy.

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