Photos: Ben Rector
People chatting in a bar. Gossip, banter, one drink leading to another, a pint to a small one.
Conor McPherson's classic chamber piece has proved popular at home and abroad over its 22-year life, picking up the Olivier for Best New Play along the way.
Early Doors has made a great job of recreating a little corner of Ireland in the historic gallery of Ingatestone Hall. The bar furniture – just the one pump – and the tables and chairs look very much at home here. Portraits look down on the drinkers, the sign to the Gents is authentic, if misleading. The stone floor adds a verismo unachievable in the theatre.
Justin Cartledge’s finely judged production brings a similar realism to the five characters who share stories in the cosy public bar as the wind wuthers outside the windows. It’s true that not all of the accents would pass unremarked on the Carrick streets, but the characters have a compellingly credible life – the body language, the faces, the cross-talk, the outmoded knitwear...
The first to tell a story is William Wells’ “cantankerous old bollock”, the garage man. A fine, fidgety performance; like the others, he has sadness in his life, and this is poignantly suggested in his second story, which reveals the roots of his loneliness, a guest at the wedding of a woman he loved and lost.
Paul Sparrowham is superb as his assistant Jim, very much at ease in this company, the twinkle in his eye tellingly extinguished in his tale of the supernatural, as he peers at the young girl’s grave.
Behind the bar is Brendan, another of the single fellers; in Darren Matthews’ persuasive performance he is a shy, troubled soul, with dark depths hidden behind a luxuriant beard.
The smooth-talking Harp-drinking Finbar [Ben Martins, in a forceful performance] brings Valerie, an incomer from distant Dublin, and an unlikely guest in this bar, where a glass of wine is an event, and the Ladies goes unused and unrepaired.
Jack, Jim and Finbar vie to unsettle her with their supernatural stories. But she is moved to share a tale of her own, which proves both more personal and more tragic than any of theirs. Amy Clayton’s mesmerising performance is moving beyond words; we are compelled to share her pain as she hesitantly, determinedly tells of her grief and its ghostly manifestation.
No lighting plot to heighten the atmosphere, but the stillness of the listeners, the intensity of the stories draw us in; the intimacy of the space making us uneasy eavesdroppers to the laddish banter, the casual conversations and the underlying sense of loss, of loneliness, of lives unfulfilled.
Not for the first time, EDP have used this remarkable acting space to stage a memorable, polished piece of theatre.