Gentrification review: We’re forever in Enda Walsh’s debt

Walsh’s new play is designed in conjunction with Ireland’s current miasma of debt, eviction and repossession


Trustee Savings Bank, Cork


When its enigmas have been decoded, it seems acceptable to interpret Enda Walsh’s new play as being about architecture: about space and how we fill it, how we price it and how we empty it.


It is a piece of architecture in itself, designed in obvious conjunction with Ireland's current miasma of debt, eviction and repossession. It is directed by Pat Kiernan of Corcadorca with the ironically varied sound score of Beethoven's Ode to Joy from Eat My Noise. The venue is Cork's Trustee Savings Bank, an institution established 200 years ago to encourage savings and thrift among the poor. It was eventually absorbed and recently discarded by Irish Permanent TSB, and the building presents its limestone facade to the river.

For this short, ambulatory and intimate visit, the audience is guided from a cloakroom dangling with little jackets through doorways framed in can-rings to a backroom squalor of abandonment challenging that process of gentrification that denies access to incomers. The passages lead to the once-familiar glory of the banking hall, rich with mahogany and brass, its coffered ceiling embellished with painted and gilded stucco, cashier cubicles guarded by fretted grilles, and an enormous portrait of patron William Craig still supervising – surely with some surprise – the file of non-depositing visitors.

Our attention is on Evan Lordan, scrubbing the marble floor with Herculean determination before entering the high-curtained, pedimented boardroom where, at last, negotiations begin at the glossy distance of a 20-seat table . Lordan is the petitioner, Kieran Ahern the arbiter; their monologues rise from the ordinary to the bizarre, from the calm to the threatening, from dread to brutality. Both men articulate their weight of metaphor with conviction. Banks can rip us from our dream of upward mobility, but in Walsh's dystopia there is a bargaining commodity more precious than our home: our children.

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture