Invitation to a Journey review: A complicated portrait of Eileen Gray
A genre-shifting affair reveals Gray’s intellectual prowess and human failings
Venue: Black Box Theatre
Date Reviewed: July 11th, 2016
Black Box Theatre, Galway
Summing up Eileen Gray’s ever-versatile creativity means straddling many genres, including lacquering, furniture design and architecture, so it is apt that Invitation to a Journey draws on the theatre, dance and music of Fishamble, Coiscéim and Crash Ensemble.
Gray said that “the future projects light, the past only clouds”, and the opening scene questions how Gray and her work should be remembered, as a grandniece is tempted by a lucrative deal for mass-produced knock-offs of Gray’s Roqubrune chair.
Forgotten for most of her life, Gray’s re-entry to public consciousness was caused by the sale of her Serpent Chair for almost €22 million in 2009. Previous neglect came at the patriarchal hand of the modernist movement, here represented by the architect Le Corbusier, who drew erotic murals on the walls of a house that Gray created with her lover Jean Badovici. An act of desecration rather than decoration, it reflects Le Corbusier’s intense jealousy of Gray’s genius at creating an organic and personal structure, rather than a machine for living in.
All three genres are empathetic in revealing Gray’s intellectual prowess, but also her human failings, such as her manipulative lesbian relationship with the singer Damia. David Bolger’s movement direction sustains visual interest with shifting tableaux of dancers and musicians, while the choreography has a satisfying formalism with limbs and torsos mirroring Gray’s lines of design. Gavin Kostick’s script is also well-pitched, whether the good-natured yet barbed banalities between an elderly Gray and her carer or the self-absorbed florid intellectual flirtations of a younger Gray with Badovici. Deirdre Gribbin’s music is more muted, occasionally erupting like a bombastic percussion solo mirroring the rhetoric of a nude Le Corbusier painting his murals, but in general adding texture and mood rather than insight.
By the end of the show, Gray’s legacy remains a dilemma. Now in her 90s, she tries to cast off her creations only for her carer to secret them away for posterity. In Gray’s words: “I like doing things, I hate possessing them. Memories cling to things and objects, so it is best to start all over again.”
- Until July 16th, then at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, July 20th-24th