Sebastian Barry’s play is suffused with loss but also love. Two men sit in a prison cell, though it’s not clear whether they share the space, as they don’t interact. The play takes the form of two monologues stitched together.
Niall Buggy’s Christy is the older of the two men, pragmatic and resigned, while David Ganly’s PJ is more given to passion. At first the play’s beats are familiar, as the two men dip into memories of their childhoods and warmly remember their mothers. The writing is evocative and warm. Then PJ begins to discuss his attraction to a young man, a love still very much taboo, and the awful act that landed him in prison.
With elegance and dexterity, Barry tightens the piece’s emotional hold and we come to understand the terrible things that knit these men together and the nature of the bond between them.
Buggy and Ganly seem completely at home with the intricacies of Barry’s writing. Both performances are restrained but gently expressive, tender and heart-filling. There’s a dash of the confessional to each of their narratives, but they never overplay this. It’s a finely crafted piece, with some lines sweet enough to drink, others capable of breaking you apart.
Jim Culleton’s production, in London after runs in Ireland and New York, is simply staged with a bunk bed the only prop, but it shows an exquisite understanding of how to draw focus, the two men gripping and rich as the play explores the possibility of forgiveness with deep compassion and humanity. As their separate stories converge and the music surges, the emotional power is like a wave.