The Same review: Enda Walsh puts two sisters behind bars

Walsh’s intense show takes place in Old Cork Prison

The Same sees sisters Catherine and Eileen Walsh cast alongside each other for the first time. Photograph: Enrique Carnicero

The Same sees sisters Catherine and Eileen Walsh cast alongside each other for the first time. Photograph: Enrique Carnicero

 

The Same
Old Cork Prison
★★★

Cork Prison on Rathmore Road is now Old Cork Prison. The Victorian building has been decommissioned and recently replaced by a bright new prison across the road. It’s not the same, despite the anxious search for significance induced by Enda Walsh’s new play, now running at the former jailhouse.

The audience is sent on a self-guided tour of the bays and rooms that are presented in enigmatic detail: one is carpeted in piles of soft white feathers, suggesting the plucking of flocks of incarcerated swans; another is captured by expanding foam; another, a dismantled catering area, still emits mechanical groans. Then there’s the damp, the constant ingredient of water in shower stalls that is reminiscent of assisted living and enough rain to grow a harvest in the Sahara.

So much for the design by Owen Boss, the lighting by Mick Hurley and the sound from Peter Power. The allusions and references are individually intriguing, without achieving a coherence until the recreation room is reached. Here the cast, met initially as two wet and silent figures, standing towel-clad in their separate cubicles, are clothed and vocal at last.

By opting for the inspired sister act of Eileen and Catherine Walsh, director Pat Kiernan ensures a compelling questioning of the provenance of memory in an already lived life. Enda Walsh’s lively narrative is delivered with an intensity that never confuses the two protagonists despite their interlinked psychological identities.

Instead, its interrogative imagery floats above their symbiosis, their desperation distilled into the search for self instead of sameness. Maybe it all adds up and, as the audience is freed into the downpour outside, there’s no escaping the shadow of the new prison, new but still a jail. Until February 25