It’s hard to believe that Conor McPherson was just twenty-five when he wrote this modern classic. That was just over twenty years ago and the piece has continued to enthrall audiences ever since.
The scene is a small, traditional pub, on a cold night, in a windswept, rural part of Ireland. As we meet various indigenous characters – and one who isn’t – the long dark silence of the countryside is broken by stories, tales and unexplained mystery. The sense that there really isn’t much to do is beautifully evoked by the cast and through Adele Thomas’s direction. Plentiful gaps in dialogue, tumbleweed moments and subtle acting bring the reality of this lifestyle onto the stage. Soon we forget the proscenium arch above and find ourselves immersed into this world, almost feeling the draught and the warmth from the pub’s wood burning stove.
The setting might be simple, but Madeleine Girling’s set goes a long way to helping us feel like we are actually on farmland, in the middle of nowhere, in a pub that only ever sees a roaring trade during tourist season. The devil’s in the detail and there’s lots of it: years of clutter stacked up, random objects, games and books, a remarkably lifelike stove, worn furniture and old pictures. Lee Curran’s lighting complements this with – at times – almost imperceptible, gradual changes, that shift atmosphere and bring tension and suspense. In one room the ambience goes from cold to warm and back again numerous times.
The pace is slow, perhaps slightly too slow at times, but the acting is gripping, very believable and while the realism in the accents – and size of the theatre – means the audience has to concentrate and at times strain a little to hear all the dialogue, it does make it all the more real. Natalie Radmall-Quirke is particularly riveting as “blow-in” Valerie, with her dark and horrific tale from beyond the grave, filling the auditorium with a chill.
In the late nineties when this was written, we didn’t live in a world glued to technology, in constant pursuit of WiFi, 4G coverage, YouTube channels and social media. Gathering together and telling stories was a more prominent past time, yet still in the current cultural and societal climate, with all our devices and endless entertainment options (extending to even the most remote locations), oral storytelling doesn’t get old, especially when it involves a good scare.
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