You could have heard a pin drop when Valerie told her story midway through Amanda Gaughan's revival of Conor McPherson's brooding 1997 masterpiece. As played by Lucianne McEvoy, Valerie is the most unassuming of strangers, embraced into the fold of a west of Ireland boozer where Jack, Jim, Finbar and barman Brendan hold court. In self-imposed exile from Dublin, over the course of one dark night Valerie rubs up against the men's shared experience and peacockish attempts to impress her.
The latter comes in the form of a series of whisky-fuelled supernatural yarns that conjure up an assortment of apparitions that Valerie too falls prey to in the most devastating of ways.
Such a simple set-up is brought to life with exquisitely low-key power on Francis O'Connor's desolate set. At the play's start, rain batters down beside the telegraph poles beyond the pub's four walls as the sound of a solitary fiddle that forms Michael John McCarthy's score cuts sporadically through the air. These elements enhance a set of mighty performances, with the men, played by Gary Lydon, Brian Gleeson, Darragh Kelly and Frank McCusker, by turns cock-sure and hang-dog in their demeanour.
While each increasingly serious moment is upended by a series of deadly one-liners, it is McEvoy's understated stillness that resonates the most. She delivers McPherson's words with a matter-of-factness that chills as much as it invites empathy. In its intangible see-sawing between hope, despair, magic and loss, Valerie's tale in McEvoy's hands sounds like something Daphne du Maurier might have dreamt up during her darkest hours, and is all the more plausible for it in this most haunting of after-hours affairs.
The Herald, January 21st 2016