By Conor McPherson
Directed by Adele Thomas
Companies: English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester
Venue: Minerva Theatre
Date: Wednesday 31st January 2018
Irish drama isn’t usually my thing, but I was glad I went to this performance. Steve had seen the play some years ago (the revival at the Donmar) and this was certainly as good as that production, and better in at least one role. It’s not an earth-shaking drama – it doesn’t have to be, of course – but it did create a nice sense of the otherworldly, together with a gentle ambiguity which led to more discussion afterwards than many another more straightforward play.
On the surface, this is a simple story of a group of Irish men in their local country pub, where one outsider, a woman who’s just moved to the area, joins them for the evening. She has her own story to tell, but first the men indulge themselves, and her, with stories of the more ghostly happenings of local lore. The tale of the fairy road is followed by the story of a strange apparition, only visible to a young woman. The woman’s own story of loss prompts another man to reveal something he’d experienced many years before, when helping out with some gravedigging.
The atmosphere shifted gradually through these tales, becoming darker and more personal. With most of the men gone, only the woman, the bar owner and one older man remained in the pub, for a final post-closing drink. The older man’s story of the woman he had loved many years ago was a poignant one, and created an even greater sense of intimacy with the characters. The story over, they left the pub and that was that.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this storyline, there was a strong sense of other possibilities throughout the play, many of which were raised during the post-show discussion. We spotted a number of them – was this some kind of purgatory, where the dead met to go over their stories in an attempt to free themselves of their past lives? Was the woman real or a phantom, bringing her story to the pub to assist the others, or perhaps to exact some kind of revenge? The story of her daughter’s death closely echoed another girl’s strange passing, and they seemed to have the same name.
This was all enjoyable speculation, and we were happy to accept that there were no clear-cut answers: the pleasure of the play is its ambiguity. There was also some good humour from time to time – the pouring of a large tumbler of white wine was one of them – and the characters were both recognisable and likeable.
The set was nicely detailed too. Being a touring production, it was set well back on the Minerva’s stage, with the bar room on an angle. The bar was centre back with a door behind and doors to left and right. The fireplace was in the right-hand wall with an armchair beside it, and there were other chairs and a table or two in the middle area. Above the fireplace were lots of pictures, and some of these were referenced during the play. The furnishings were old-fashioned and dingy, as befits an old country pub which isn’t making a lot of money.
The lighting was a bit strange at times, as if they were trying too hard to emphasise the ghostly aspects. The performance began with some strong, harsh lighting, and this was repeated at the end, but with several changes which didn’t suggest anything useful to me. Other than that, they kept the light levels pretty steady, with a gradual dimming to highlight each storyteller, and a gentle return to the normal level afterwards. Overall, I’d say this was a pretty good effort by everyone involved.
© 2018 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me