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Conor McPherson’s quiet little play about people telling ghost stories in a pub has proved one of London’s Royal Court Theatre’s biggest successes. We ask director lan Rickson how THE came about. Words: Steve Cramer

So what’s our culture's great talking shop? Parliament? The courts? Television? Of course not. it‘s the pub. The place we go to iron out problems. set the world to rights. find love. companionship and most of all. tell our best stories. Storytelling is an artform best performed face to face. and the best context is oyer a foamy drop of amber nectar. Oddly it‘s rarely been exploited tnuch in the theatre. and certainly seldom so well as in Conor McPherson’s West End hit which transferred from London‘s Royal Court in 1998. and has been doing great business worldwide eyer since.

Ian Rickson. artistic director of the Royal Court. , says it's the simplicity of YOU.

.VIcPherson's approach that

appealed. ‘To us it seemed really radical that this playwright. who was presenting his first full—length play. trusted his audience.‘ he says. 'He felt that people in a room in real time is a really exciting thing. There’s nothing conyentionally spectacular about this play; it doesn't have dancers. big production numbers. or flying scenery. but it's very compelling.’

But it‘s not just the big-time musical that The ll'et'r has outstripped. In many respects it‘s quite different from the Kane. Rayenhill and Butterworth ‘serious drama‘ style of big sensations. violence and sex. A much quieter play. The ll'eir deals with a group of

64 THE LIST 10-2-1 May 200‘.

‘It’s a cry for community, a cry to people to speak what’s inside

Guinness and ghosts: The Weir

men in a pub in rural Ireland. telling each other ghost stories over a jar of the black. 'I'hey 'rc joined by Finbar. a young man on the tnake who has left the Village to tnake his fortune in the big city. To gain their respect. he tells a ghost story of his own before. finally. the beautiful young woman who has arriy'ed with him. and stirs a certain sexual competitiyeness in the men. tells the mummy and daddy of them all.

The idea of a stranger arriying in a pub and telling the locals stories to empower himself suggests to me a much older Irish play. Sy'nge's l’ltty/my' (2/. The

Western World. but Rickson emphasises the particular

qualities of this piece. "I‘here‘s a bit of that. but it really deals with a much older dramatic situation of a stranger coming into a community. Also. it‘s quite contemporary. since through liinbar we‘re looking at a tnuch more recent phenomena. the ('eltic Tiger. The play looks at the gentrification of Ireland. the way they'y'e created cappuccino bars all m er Dublin now. This is about the Ireland that‘s disappearing. and the need for community among people.’

In this respect. the play recalls the other great commercial success of the Royal (‘ourt in the ()lls. Stephen Daldry's production of xIn III.\/)(‘t‘l())‘ ('uHs. The seemingly implausible rey‘iyal of l’reistlcy's post- war classic reminded us of our loss of .selfhood through our loss of comtnunity in the Thatchet‘itc and post- Thatcherite world. Rickson sees the parallel: ‘Yes. it's a cry for community. a cry to people to speak w hat‘s inside you. The ghost stories allow the playwright to take the audience on a journey where they encounter all kinds of spiritual questions about low. life and death. But it's not clunky. it doesn’t hit you met the head.‘

But are the stories scary? ‘Some of them are.~ say s Rickson. 'These are the stories that are best told in the theatre. but they're also Very funny in places.' Don‘t miss this one. You'll be talking about it down the boozer for months.

The Weir, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 22 -Sat 26 May.

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Stage Whispers THEATREGOERS IN EAST Fife have much to look forward to over the summer. After an extended closure and a long fundraising struggle, the new Byre theatre will at last be opening for business. The St Andrews theatre‘s new season comes after four years of struggle to gain funding for the project, and some dark days over the period. The new building will incorporate a 220 seat main house and a 60 seat studio theatre. There is also a theatre café bar, which will serve drinks, food and snacks.

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THIS COMBINATION OF NEW plays, classics and proven bankable hits looks set to send the new Byre off to a steady start. Into The Woods, which has been funded by the SAC's Scotland On Stage project looks an interesting challenge for artistic director Ken Alexander, while the studio theatre, whose programme has not yet been announced, will, one hopes, provide a much needed new stage for up-and-coming Scottish writers.

Bondagers, which will be revived at the new Byre