As Virgil once said; “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” It rarely ends well. Much the same might be said for the ambitious, Greek themed “Gym Swim Party” by Danielle Galligan and Gavin Kostick. With an impressive dream team of directors looking like the theatrical equivalent of an Avengers cast, expectations might well be high. But you might want to manage your expectations. For when “Gym Swim Party” finally assembles, you might sometimes wish it hadn’t.
Talking itself up far bigger than it actually is, “Gym Swim Party” claims to be a triptych of dance, movement, and story that relocates the Trojan tale, with a little twist or two, to modern Dublin. An uninvolving and unconvincing ruse in which two competing gyms engage in a sort of gangland turf war. A bloodless battle that sees the victor adding his competitors daughter to his list of trophies. Needless to say, his current wife isn’t too happy when she learns she’s being moved out. Tossing around words like lust and lethal without any real substance, “Gym Swim Party” takes a torturously long route through a gym workout, a swimming routine, and a lacklustre party. All to reveal that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
With “Gym Swim Party,” co-writer Gavin Kostick doesn’t have his best day ever. Yet Kostick’s partner in crime, Danielle Galligan, also needs to shoulder the responsibility. For, irony of ironies, “Gym Swim Party” could have benefited from an independent dramaturg of Kostick’s exceptional calibre. Textually, “Gym Swim Party” strains to makes it points, often making them poorly, being never as funny, tense, innovative, or clever enough. Long, meandering monologues that punch above their weight only add to the unnecessary durational drag, which not even an invested Kate Gilmore can redeem. Indeed, narratively, everything could have been left at the door right until the arrival of the scorned wife, which finally opens into the story. One whose ending hobbles across the finishing line.
Co-directed by Louise Lowe, Megan Kennedy, and Eddie Kay, the feeling of too many cooks spoiling the broth, often by leaving it undercooked in places, looms large. As does a serious lack of a central, unifying vision. Indeed, the triptych notion proves a useful one. Not for its three directorial heads, but because “Gym Swim Party” relies heavily on visuals. A prolonged opening as someone silently climbs from an empty pool is immediately followed by a long sequence of gym combat with a few good jokes that, like everything else in “Gym Swim Party,” overstays its welcome. Just like the synchronised swimming sequence, looking like outtakes from an Esther Williams movie shot on LSD. If a short series of movement duets show some moments of grace, they're the exception rather than the rule, even if a marching routine, resembling a Pina Bausch Nelken Line, is far more successful. Not so the pivotal axe scene that’s poorly and unimaginatively handled. Nor the final image which no way justifies the intensity it aspires to.
With cast members John Doran, Danielle Galligan, Kate Gilmore, Katie Honan, Clelia Murphy, Eva O’Connor, Robbie O’Connor and Ian Toner often looking torn three ways, performances are more often competent rather than compelling. Yet Honan, Gilmore, Murphy, and O’Connor, along with a wacky styled Doran, are particularly impressive at times. Indeed, the only level on which “Gym Swim Party” consistently succeeds is in Denis Clohessy’s superb cinematic score, bravely trying to compensate for what's so obviously not on stage.
Like its visual centrepiece of red helium balloons, “Gym Swim Party” momentarily catches the eye, but it never takes off for being rooted to the spot, stuck somewhere that feels neither here nor there. Even so, there’s something wonderful in the idea of all these amazing directors working together. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before “Gym Swim Party” proves worthy of its collective talents both on and off stage.
“Gym Swim Party” by Danielle Galligan and Gavin Kostick, runs at The O’Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019 until September 15.
For more information, visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2019.