How can two separate things become the same? Here lies not only the horror of Enda Walsh’s chilling new tragedy but also the question of how a playwright obsessed with incarceration can collaborate with a company as freely mobile as Corcadorca, who are steadily transforming Cork City into their mise-en-scéne one site-specific production at a time.
This commission marking the company’s 25th anniversary, twenty-one years after the playwright’s Disco Pigs propelled their reputations, proves that an old arrangement can still bring fresh meanings. Where Walsh nowadays directs his plays as hermetically sealed and claustrophobic, director Pat Kiernan offers a fluid promenade through the old Cork Prison and, extensively, a vast journey through a personal history.
A prologue is given in the form of designer Owen Boss’s immense installations. Crawl into a tunnel and glimpse a locker-room adorned with wallpaper, a prison blurring into a home. What are we to make of surreal displays – a gigantic bed, a tiered-cake covered in plaster, an isolated bus stop? The cleverness of this production, gradually giving shape to delirium, is that when a character retrieves a crucial detail, so do we.
Inside the lounge room of a nursing home, two women form an inexplicable connection. Both are named Lisa but drawn differently: the younger woman (Eileen Walsh), nudged to start afresh after a family tragedy, is seriously withdrawn; the older woman (Catherine Walsh) is a funeral caterer who enjoys simple pleasures like a good sock for the damp weather. The new familiarity between the two mightn’t be greater if they were sisters, which the cast members actually are.
So what is their connection? Whether recognising each other from a mysterious ‘blue room’ or reclining back and miraculously finishing the other’s reminiscences, it unnervingly dawns: are these younger and older versions of the same person? Together they form a fascinating whole, reimagining the city as their kingdom.
But this absorbing production is as interested in bringing together disparate elements as breaking them apart. A searing flash of terror comes upon Catherine Walsh’s Lisa when fed the memory of an overbearing mother as if a repressed trauma. Abandoned, Eileen Walsh’s Lisa becomes a revolving nerve, agonising over a life un-built. Each becomes a curse on the other.
Maybe that’s why Walsh, for a fanciful final image, chooses a rope to underline an enduring bond. What is to be made of a lifetime where past and future is tied, haunting the other? In this shattering production, it can only be a sentence.
The Same is on until 25th February 2017 at Old Cork Prison. Click here for more details.