At the Dublin Airport for my trip back home: I bought two newspapers at WH Smith. One, the Irish Independent, is a tabloid, and although there is resistance across Ireland to division by religion no matter what the topic, this newspaper is generally seen as Catholic. The other paper I bought is the one I generally read while I’m in Ireland, The Irish Times. This paper has retained the traditional 8-column format. It is a good 2 inches wider than US papers and as such is challenging to read while sitting in economy class seats on an airplane. I bought the Times to read the news; I bought the Independent because I had had lunch with one of the arts reviewers, Sophie Gorman, while I was in Galway at the Arts Festival and wanted to see what she had to say.
The lunch was an accident. Two women whom I had chatted with briefly at an installation that morning walked into Ard Bia (‘high food’), a Galway institution and wonderful place to eat, just after I had been seated for lunch. Since there were no tables available I offered to have them join me. The other woman, Rachel, was an independent theatre director who had just begun a new job at the Irish Arts Council. We had all been to see three playlets by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh. The plays, each about 15 minutes in length, took place on three different small sets. In each case a small audience (2-5 people) sat in the room while a disembodied voice spoke. I had seen one of these, Room 303, last year in Galway; after seeing two more, Room 303 remained by far the best. The other two were voiced by women; I don’t think Walsh gets women, which is why most of his plays are heavily or completely male.
At lunch Rachel and I discussed the performance we had both seen the night before. Sophie hadn’t seen it yet, but as I found out after she left the table to go off and write her radio piece for that evening’s broadcast, she was always very careful not to discuss any piece before she had reviewed it. The performance Rachel and I had seen (me from front row center, the second time I have ended up in that seat by sheer luck) was Invitation to a Journey, a multi-media work about the architect and designer Eileen Gray. The performance was a collaborative project between three Irish companies, dance, music and theatre. The dance (CoisCeim Dance Theatre) and music (Crash Ensemble) parts of the performance were terrific. Three dancers dressed in white moved between contemporary fluidity and the juttering, angular postures of Nijinksy, situating the play in the Modernist period in which Gray lived and worked. Three musicians carrying their instruments, including a cello, moved around the stage with them, and a percussionist, his instruments mostly fixed on the stage, performed with tour de force power and energy.
The actual play was by contrast conventional, slight and emphasizing Gray’s sexuality (one of her lovers was a French chanteuse with whom she strolled through Paris with their pet ocelot on a leash) over her huge professional life. The chanteuse featured unmemorably in the performance but not, mercifully, the ocelot. Ingrid Craigie, the actor playing Gray, was lovely but was given neither material nor costume nor decent wig nor even dignity. I have seen other FIshamble productions and enjoyed them, although they had not been experimental even with their focus on unusual approaches like walking plays (where the audience follows the actors to a series of locations as the play unfolds). In the Independent, Gorman, who did see the performance during the week, wrote,
The various strands don’t full knit together and we are not given much emotional foothold or narrative to build on. And ultimately it is hard to reconcile this too slight picture of Gray.
I covered quite a bit of territory during my 28-hour visit to Galway; I even made it to a few talks of the Irish Print Networks Conference at NUI Galway, including a paper by a friend, Molly O’Hagan Hardy, the only other American in attendance. One thing I missed was the Arts Festival’s first-ever ‘Art Book’ exhibition, which turned out to be in a venue that was very far from city center (I walked for 30 minutes and never got close so finally turned around and walked back) and in the end proved too complicated to get to by car. I’m sorry to have missed the open-call exhibition. Artists’ books don’t have much of a presence in Ireland, and it would be interesting to see what was there.