There’s a kind of acting you very, very rarely see – the kind where the acting becomes completely invisible.
And that’s the kind we get in director Adele Thomas’ superlative revival of Conor McPherson’s 1997 modern Irish classic.
The only possibly obstacle is the Minerva stage itself, a vast emptiness across which we have to peer at a set pitched right at the back.
Instead of setting up a no man’s land as the Minerva does, the perfect venue would have made us feel we were amongst the actors, the better to savour the spells they weave – and the brilliance with which they weave them.
This is a play in which absolutely nothing happens beyond a group of people meeting in the remotest of rural Irish bars. But the magic is in the pictures they conjure as old rivalries and resentments simmer – and then give way to stories as the beer flows and the night grows long. Seemingly cut off, the tales immediately start to take a supernatural turn in Brendan’s bar, a world where the divisions between this world and the next start to crumble.
McPherson gives his actors tales to die for; their skill is that there is no show-boating. One by one, the actors allow the tales, rich in mystery, to seep out of their souls – and the effect is spine-tingling.
Natalie Radmall-Quirke, as the stranger Valerie, particularly holds us transfixed as she relays the most heart-breaking of narratives; her delivery is utterly natural, and therein lies its power.
Sean Murray as the ever-present Jack slowly shows his vulnerabilities; John O'Dowd as Jim shows decency and kindness; and Louis Dempsey as Finbar reveals something of the brittleness behind his made-good airs.
Meanwhile, Sam O'Mahony keeps the drinks flowing as Brendan. And so they all suck us in.
Such a shame about the empty expanse in front of us. It’s difficult to see how it could have been staged differently, but you sense something has been lost by just plonking it all down on the far side of the room – a room the cast are doing their very best to make us enter.