Gift Horse Theatre is an innovative, Dublin-based theatre company focused on creating “dynamic, forward-thinking and environmentally conscious theatre”. In line with its goal of “breathing new life into stories past and present”, the company toured their adaptation of Twelfth Night between August 4th and 8th with performances across counties Kildare, Meath and Dublin. The tour culminated with a rainy homecoming performance in Merrion Square Gardens on September 26th, supported by DUBLIN LIVE!, Dublin City Council’s Live Local Performance Programme. In conversation with The University Times, two of the founding members of Gift Horse Theatre Company discuss their tour and their plans for the upcoming year.
Doris de Vries and Signe Lury are both recent Trinity graduates, with degrees in English and Drama and Theatre studies. They founded Gift Horse in their second year of College, catalysed by Lury’s desire to adapt Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Lury wrote and directed while de Vries did the movement direction for their production. Due to the cancellation of their planned tour of Tess last year due to the pandemic, Gift Horse embarked on their first tour with Twelfth Night this summer, which de Vries directed and saw Lury acting and co-producing along with fellow graduate Elishka Lane Barnes.
Discussing their experience of touring, de Vries and Lury agree that it was a “fun experience”. Despite this, they acknowledge that calling it a tour is an “ambitious description”, as their run featured five shows in the space of one week, with everybody sleeping at home. Lury notes that it was “a good way to ease us into the landscape and the concept of touring”.
De Vries extends this point, explaining that “it was really easy because everyone was going home”. Despite the small scale, she hopes this experience will stand to all involved ahead of their larger scale plans for next summer.
To facilitate the touring Twelfth Night, Gift Horse worked “to bring culture into stately homes that would not necessarily have culture”, Lury says. This proved a learning curve for the growth of their company. “We knew it was going to be people who came to these stately homes regularly for dinner and would stay because there was a play on”, Lury explains. The tour, in this sense, provided a completely different experience for Gift Horse. The audience consisted of “a lot of older people” and often featured children playing in the background. Lury considers this a highlight of the overall experience, expressing that, with open-air theatre, “the style is less clear and our play is still a play that we’re putting on, but it was fun dealing with audiences when there were kids running around”.
Speaking on their experience of shifting from the college sphere to the world of professional theatre, de Vries explains that “we’ve kept doing what we were doing in [DU] Players, only on a bigger scale and for a different audience”. The company continues to maintain strong connections with the DU Players society, with a preview of their Twelfth Night performance being shown to incoming members as part of the DU Players Freshers week. Lury highlights that the support of the Trinity theatre community has made establishing the company a lot smoother, “because we are still working with a lot of the same people, it feels like we’ve been able to ease into it”.
With the resounding success of their tour, which culminated in a tour de force homecoming performance on Merrion Square, described by de Vries as a “victory lap”. The performance was met with a rapturous reception and is indicative of the immense talent within the company. Gift Horse have “several bits in the works” for the upcoming year. This is alongside the tour they have planned for next summer, which includes a short film that Lury wrote and directed earlier this summer as well as a piece about eco-theatre.
The latter is currently in its early workshopping phase, but promises to include an ambitious tour around Europe “with as many means of travel [as] possible that do not include flying”, in line with Gift Horse’s ethos of “creating theatre that respects and celebrates our natural environment”. These ambitious plans set the company apart as one of the up-and-comers that the Dublin theatre scene should keep an eye out for.
The company continues to maintain strong connections with the DU Players society, with a preview of their Twelfth Night performance being shown to incoming members as part of the DU Players Freshers week. Lury highlights that the support of the Trinity theatre community has made establishing the company a lot smoother.