Monday 24 July 2017

Theatre: Enda's return to Corcadorca: same, same?

* The Same, Old Cork Prison, Cork
* Corah, Leah and I, New Theatre Dublin

One and the same: Eileen Walsh in The Same. Photo: Enrique Carnicero
One and the same: Eileen Walsh in The Same. Photo: Enrique Carnicero

Emer O'Kelly thinks Enda Walsh needs to do more work on his latest offering.

With Arlington: A Love Story currently on the Abbey stage, and Ballyturk due to open there shortly (both under their original acclaimed production credit lines of Landmark and Galway International Arts Festival) it is easy to imagine that the prolific Enda Walsh is incapable of getting things wrong.

Usually, one is both bemused and entranced by the piercing insights of the man, as well as his manic intellectual (and physical) energy. Those qualities were first recognised almost a generation ago by his adopted home town company Corcadorca - and Walsh has remained faithful to them ever since.

The Same is his offering to celebrate their 25th year, a site specific two-hander in production at the old Cork City Prison. And with a dream team cast of two hugely impressive talents in the persons of sister actors Catherine Walsh and Eileen Walsh, a triumph could be expected.

Lisa is broken. We know that when we meet her in what is clearly a mental institution; and fragmented recollections of misery, including references to an equally (but more cruelly) disturbed mother make it just as clear that she has reason to be. So meeting a slightly older woman offering recognisable empathy that approaches tentative self-identification offers brief hope. Except that the two women slowly meld, becoming aware that they are so close as to be one and the same.

Walsh is examining the vexed question as to whether this means total destruction of the self, or some kind of re-defined salvation. Obviously, there can be no answers to such a complex question, but there can be a solution in theatrical terms.

The problem with The Same is that for all its verbal fireworks (and two gut-wrenching performances from the two actors) the play only skates across the territory. The examination strikes, quite frankly, as slipshod, and the writing as lazy, as though the piece were tossed off with a sigh of relief. Walsh is more than capable of delivering on his theme, but a few more drafts are badly needed.

Director Pat Kiernan's main "staging" in the hospital recreation room is a good idea but badly envisaged - certainly my chair was placed where I saw Eileen Walsh for about five minutes, Catherine Walsh for about 30 seconds. Other than that, I might have been listening to a radio play, which left me feeling considerably deprived, because the two actors are more than worth watching.

The design encompasses installations by visual artist Owen Boss in different rooms: a billowing, smothering bed, a shattered wedding cake sculpture, a huge heap of glittering fragments that are empty medication packaging, a sea of drifting feathers, lines of dripping washing - all visual aspects of the women and their "condition".

They are connected by a vertiginous series of steep stairs which may have been designed to be deliberately awkward and claustrophobic. The visual impact is undeniable, but it verges on being unacceptably crowded.

*******

High ambition is a good idea, but climbing Everest before you can even crawl is a trifle foolhardy. And that's what seems to have happened with BridgeTalk, a new company of recent theatre graduates working with other recent theatre graduates. The result is Ellen Flynn's Cora, Leah and I, directed by Laura Bowler at the New Theatre in Dublin.

Cora is married to Egan, and they apparently live in considerable luxury in the countryside. Cora's sister Leah, who ran off a couple of years previously, turns up, filthy, clearly poverty-stricken, and with her stability questionable (she carries around the festering corpse of a cat she has battered to death). I know, I know.

Ah, but there's a reason for it: Egan has a bit of pash on her, even though he's really, really, in love with Cora. And anyway, Leah ran off because her and Cora's brother killed himself, and nobody quite knew whether he himself should be blamed for it, or one or both sisters should take the blame.

This is all dealt with by Egan carrying around a movie camera (which belonged to the dead man) and continually sticking it in the women's faces and demanding they break down their defences.

My defence told me that somebody had been watching too many Ingmar Bergman movies. And you have to have been Bergman to "do" a Bergman movie. The setting and design by Bill Woodland is equally ambitious, with the supposed view from the kitchen window actually a TV screen projection. And no, it doesn't quite come off either, and nor does the costume design by Orla Long - Cora's gear doesn't spell languorous luxury, any more than Leah's conveys years down and out in communes.

The acting by Maeve O'Mahony (Cora), Seana O'Hanlon (Leah) and Ross Gaynor (Egan) manages to be both superficial and pretentious; but that's probably down to the material.

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