Walsh sisters bring sibling revelry to the stage

Catherine and Eileen Walsh play different versions of the same person in Enda Walsh’s new play at the former prison in Cork, writes Colette Sheridan.
Walsh sisters bring sibling revelry to the stage

FOR the first time in her acting career, Catherine Walsh will star alongside her younger sister, Eileen Walsh, in Corcadorca’s production of Enda Walsh’s play, The Same. Taking place at the old decommissioned Cork prison premises near Collins Barracks, the two sisters, originally from Cork’s Quaker Road, will actually be playing the one person.

Catherine explains that there is a ten-year age gap between the two roles. “It’s where you meet your older self or your younger self. They connect with each other but don’t realise they are each other. When they do realise what’s happening, it’s a case of whether or not they will continue to meet. Maybe the younger one is better off not knowing about her future.”

Setting the play in a prison is, says Catherine, all about stripping away control from the self. She says that Enda is indulging in his penchant for exploring “the interior world, people’s psyches, their pasts, the patterns people have and the way they operate in the world.”

Catherine says she has never felt overshadowed by her sister who is eight years her junior. Eileen was catapulted into a successful acting career when she starred in Corcadorca’s premiere of Enda Walsh’s play, Disco Pigs, playing opposite Cillian Murphy.

Catherine, who won awards in 2002 for her role in the Eugene O’Brien play, Eden, and starred in DruidSynge’s acclaimed productions of The Playboy of the Western World and The Shadow of the Glen, says she has never been in competition with her sister.

“I never think of myself in any of the roles that Eileen is doing. While I did Eden the play, Eileen did the TV version and even then, she was so different from me. We have talked about acting together before. It has been on our minds. But there are so few female roles that you’re not exactly inundated with them. It’s great how this play is working out. I bring my perceptions to it and Eileen is bringing hers.”

But while Dublin-based Catherine has forged her own path, she was very quick to point out what she considered to be her sister’s exceptional talent to their drama teacher at South Presentation Secondary School.

The RTÉ sports commentator, Ger Canning, taught extracurricular drama at the school. He was instrumental in igniting Catherine’s career when he encouraged her to audition (successfully as it turned out) for The Crucible in Dublin produced by the National Youth Theatre.

But while Ger Canning was encouraging Catherine, she, rather self-effacingly, told him that there was someone coming up in the school who was “much better” than her. She was referring to the young Eileen. As for the dynamic between the sisters, Catherine says: “It’s a bit like being a twin.” (Catherine actually has a twin brother.) The close connection that she shares with London-based Eileen means that she has a sounding board for the ups and downs of her career.

“It’s great to have someone who really understands what it’s like when you don’t get an acting job. Eileen can understand the frustration. She really feels it’s a disaster when something doesn’t work out for me. Someone else will say ‘move onto the next thing’ but Eileen understands the disappointment from the inside.”

Catherine, who studied drama at Trinity, has only been in one Enda Walsh play before, The New Electric Ballroom, produced by Druid. “I find working in Enda’s plays challenging but interesting. You really feel you’re pulling on muscles, working towards something. There’s also great excitement in terms of the audiences. They have to make a leap with you.”

She says that Pat Kiernan, director of The Same, “has an outside eye on it. Even though I might think one way, he’ll say what he thinks is coming across.” Clearly, the Walsh sister act is one to watch.

  • The Same opens tonight at the old Cork prison premises on Rathmore Road near Collins Barracks. Tickets from Triskel

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