Invitation to a Journey explores Gray’s life in vivid detail, from her colourful relationship with Damia, her French lover (portrayed powerfully by Kate Brennan), to her innovative career as an architect and designer. It is a co-production of Fishamble: The New Play Company, CoisCéim Dance Theatre, the contemporary music group Crash Ensemble and Galway International Arts Festival, and is written and performed in a groundbreaking way. The roles of the three dancers, three actors, and four musicians are melded to the extent that in some scenes it is difficult to tell them apart, especially in one scene where Damia and the dancers fight over a chair, all essentially becoming dancers.
Invitation to a Journey. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
The musicians wear costumes suited to the era and have their hair crimped in a ‘20s style, which connects them to the dancers in particular, as they have the same hairstyle. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my mother Deirdre O’Leary was involved in this production as one of the musicians).
The show opens with the three dancers offering their interpretation of Gray’s architecture through movement. Half a dozen nine-foot-tall doors on either side of the stage are then flung open by the remaining cast members, which segues into the auction of the dragon chair. As the cast bid for the chair, Ingrid Craigie — the actor playing Eileen Gray — sits in a chair behind them and becomes fleetingly visible as the bidders exit the stage and the lights dim. Her presence becomes much stronger as the show progresses, although at times that presence is overshadowed by the sheer amount of things going on onstage.
Halfway through, the show enacts the construction of e.1027, the iconic house Gray designed for herself and her lover the Romanian architect Jean Badovici. String outlining the foundations is taped to the stage by one of the dancers as Gray struts around the stage carrying blueprints. Only shortly afterwards, Le Corbusier (played by Ronan Leahy) paints lewd murals on the pristine walls of e.1027, nude.
In an era when most women were married off, Eileen Gray was openly bisexual, almost insanely driven, and creative. She was modern when it wasn’t mainstream and this show echoes that crazy creative determination that possessed her. While this show ambitiously melds the roles of dancer, actor and musician, it would be interesting to see what the difference in dynamic would be if the musicians had more dialogue with the rest of the cast and if Gray was more involved in scenes with the dancers. The mixture of concrete and abstract information presented through the different art forms gave a strong impression of someone’s personality. It seemed to be trying to express an inner creativity and drive that I now associate with Eileen Gray.
As the Young Critics hit the stage of the Dublin Theatre Festival on Oct 4th, we publish the final in our series of summer reviews. Dara Eaton from Carlow Youth Theatre visited the G.B Shaw Theatre in Carlow for the World Premiere of Jockey.
After hearing great things about WillFredd Theatre’s innovative work, I went to their production of the one-woman show Jockey, made by professional dancer and choreographer Emma O’Kane, with many questions. How much dialogue should I expect? Would the play tell a story, or simply display a variety of impressive dance moves? As a drama critic reviewing a story told through dance, I may have left with even more questions than I had going in.
Emma O’Kane in Jockey by WillFredd Theatre Co.
The show tells the story of O’Kane, who hopes to gain a better understanding of her late grandfather’s passion for horse racing by learning to be a jockey. As the performance progressed, visual effects such as newspaper articles projected onto screens and voice-over samples filled us in on the career of Phillip De Burgh O’Brien, who operated as a writer for a racehorse magazine and as a bloodstock agent, selling horses to jockeys for upcoming events. The story was basic, dwelling more on how certain situations affected the main character than how they altered the world around them. This is something that would normally fascinate me, as I believe the emotions of a character are explored more thoroughly when there is less emphasis on the outside world, and I felt prepared for a powerful display of expression. However, any feelings O’Kane experienced were conveyed through movement alone, an element I am unfamiliar with and that at first seemed intriguing, but eventually became repetitive and predictable. The movement on stage often seemed almost misplaced, without any obvious tie to what the character was experiencing emotionally.
Regardless of these concerns about the choreography, the dancing was spectacularly executed by O’Kane. As it was the production’s world premiere, I went in expecting some hiccups, but each dance number was rehearsed and performed to perfection, which caught the attention of everyone in the audience. The production was quite extraordinary to look at, as a set packed full of screens with constantly changing news articles ensured the viewer was kept alert throughout.
Even these screens had a drawback, though, as the ever-altering text meant that much of the story was lost. Though I admire the innovation, being caught between reading the text and watching the movement left me and the group I went with unaware as to what was going on at times, which drew me out of the experience of the show. I found myself fumbling through the programme in an attempt to understand what exactly I was watching.
Undoubtedly, Jockey left me with mixed emotions and I am of two minds as to whether or not to wholeheartedly recommend this play. Would someone with more interest in physical theatre enjoy this piece more than I did? Or were my observations fair from the perspective of any theatre fan? The only recommendation I can give, is for you to see this play and decide for yourself.
Dara Eaton is a Carlow Youth Theatre and is an NAYD Young Critic for 2015.