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Thoughts on Homer and the Making of Gym Swim Party by Gavin Kostick

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Gym Swim Party

By Gavin Kostick

Gavin Kostick writes about Gym Swim Party, a contemporary riff on the Trojan story set on a particularly epic day in Dublin which he has co-created and which will premiere on Thursday 12th September at The O’Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival. The work is  co-directed by Eddie Kay, Megan Kennedy and Louise Lowe, and co-created by Kostick and Danielle Galligan.

I am a late-comer to the gym. I had never properly been inside one until the age of 50.

One day, two older men were talking in the changing room. One said to the other, “I was a member of one of the first gyms on the Northside. It was in a cellar. It was called ‘Ajax Gyms’. All the gyms were called after Greek warriors at that time.”

Another moment in time. At the age of 7, I was reading the EV Rieu, Penguin version of The Odyssey in the schoolyard. I was shy. A boy slapped the book out of my hand and stamped on it. “Why won’t you play tag with us?” I still have the book with the footprint on it.

In 2016 I was sitting next to Danielle Galligan at a Dublin Fringe Show. She had recently graduated from actor training at the Lir Academy and she missed the movement classes. I got hold of Megan Kennedy (co-artistic director of the dance company, Junk Ensemble) and we set up some dance classes for actors at Dublin Fringe.

It turned out Dani is also a gym goer, though with a different perspective to mine (me, benign, her, intense but with more questions). It turned out from her childhood she was also full of stories of Troy and Greece. It turned out we both wanted to use those stories and a physical approach to make something fun and big.

About two years ago, fed up of waking up to the news on the internet, I got an 18th century literal word-for-word translation of The Odyssey and started to put it into my own modern version. I put up a book every fortnight to a reading group on Facebook. It took a year to do. I then got hold of Dani, Janet Moran and Eanna Hardwicke and we did the whole thing as a live reading which has since been podcast by RISE Productions. Amongst other things, this was to check in with myself as a writer. Doing something like that gives you a very close reading of Homer. I was pleased to be told that apparently every year Brian Friel read both The Iliad and The Odyssey to keep himself grounded.

In parallel with this Dani and I set about making Gym Swim Party. Gym Swim Party is a co-production with The O’Reilly Theatre and is on as part of Dublin Fringe.

Gym is the Trojan War told down the gym with two rival Dublin gyms competing for ultimate control, Swim is the voyage home and Party is the nightmare consequences and aftermath. To that end we’re working with a range of collaborators including directors Eddie Kay, Megan Kennedy and Louise Lowe (working with assistant director Samantha Cade), sound designer and composer Denis Clohessy, set and costume by Maree Kearns, lighting by AedÍn Cosgrove and a very fine cast and crew.

After finishing The Odyssey the simplest take-home message I had was that for actions there are consequences. It is often simultaneously the case that something must happen and it is the result of individual actions. Zeus spells this out at the start of The Odyssey:

“Gods! How much blame should we endure as gods from these mortals
Who in their ignorance regard us as the source and cause of misery
When it is their own rashness in transgressing the proper bounds of destiny
Which brings on their misfortune. Take this Aegisthus: it was outside his destiny
To couple with Agamemnon’s wife and murder the man on his homecoming:
Thrusting him into deep death. Disaster would be the result and he knew it.
Didn’t I send Hermes, giant-killer, keen-eyed, to spell it out:
Neither to kill the man nor join with his wife? For wasn’t it obvious that
Orestes on coming to manhood was bound to avenge his father and take back his land?
Consequently, Aegisthus closing his ears, deaf to this well-put counsel,
Pays now the final and endless price for his own crimes.”

For example, in the majestic, slow march of The Odyssey, it is clear that Odysseus must return home alone, late and in evil plight but we can also see the moment when he causes this himself when he unnecessarily (and against good advice) taunts the blind Cyclops. Similarly, all the suitors must, in the end, be slaughtered for their offence against hospitality, but we also see them specifically given the choice to leave and not taking it: both some individuals and collectively. In a profound sense then, character is destiny and the old dualism between character and plot melts away.

I had a very definite sense of this kind of fate when I watched our son walk up the road to get his Leaving Cert results. The results were in his future. And yet what he was about to discover were the consequences of what he had done in his study, in the exam and in the subsequent marking. So his future fate was the discovery of the consequences of his own action in the past. That kind of fate seems modern as well as ancient.

I think Dani and I have worked really hard to create a non-judgemental work in which we see both the playing out of the story as it must be, and the individual, understandable, choices that make the final catastrophe inevitable.

In a sense then fate, when it comes, is full of an intense, negative possibility. The feeling is, if only I hadn’t done X, or if only I had listened to Y (“if only I had worked harder at my exams”), then I wouldn’t be here now.

Finally, I think Homer shares with Shakespeare, particularly in The Odyssey, an active interest in, and compassion for, any and all the characters we meet on the way. For the moment they are there we have a distinct glimpse of the world through their own perspective. In Gym Swim Party Dani and I have tried to retain that sense of active interest in – identification with I suppose – all the characters you will meet on the stage.

(c) Gavin Kostick

About Gym Swim Party:

Soaked in sweat, ignited by lust, and powered by revenge, welcome to a contemporary riff on the Trojan story set on a particularly epic day in Dublin.

Premiering Thursday 12th September at The O’Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival and presented by a collaboration of some of Ireland’s foremost theatre artists, Gym Swim Party is an exhilarating triptych of movement, dance and story; a tale of revenge told through the pain of the Gym, the pleasure of the Swim and the nightmare consequences of Party.

From co-creators Danielle Galligan and Gavin Kostick and directed by multi award winning collaborators  Louise Lowe, Eddie Kay and Megan Kennedy, this is an invitation to the turf war to end all wars as Dublin’s rival gym dynasties battle it out to settle old scores and gain control of the city.

When lust crosses tribal lines, the stakes become lethal.

With a cast of John Doran, Danielle Galligan, Kate Gilmore, Katie Honan, Darragh Kelly, Clelia Murphy, Eva O’Connor, Robbie O’Connor and Ian Toner, audiences can expect a feisty, shocking and bloody tale of naked ambition, passion and violence, told with wit, style and more than a dash of Dublin.

Gym Swim Party.

Best. Day. Ever.

See here for further information and tickets.

Gym Swim Party photo (c) Ste Murray

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