Arts review: A Stranger Walks Into A Bar

Dir. Shilpa T-Hyland, Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, 26th July

Inspired in equal measure by the rich folklore traditions of the British Isles and the everyday ups and downs of life, director Shilpa T-Hyland’s A Stranger Walks into a Bar offers a collection of short stories ranging from the slice-of-life to the supernatural. The basic premise of the travelling storyteller is a flexible and permitting platform that is put to good, varied use, with a tale for every taste. In the grand scheme of things, the play and accompanying blog aim to start a conversation about the place of folklore in modern life and the fine art of storytelling itself.

The first thing that sets A Stranger Walks into a Bar apart is the location of choice. The play has quite literally barhopped around Edinburgh and Glasgow, selling out venues like The Cuckoo’s Nest and Nice ‘N’ Sleazy. This peculiarity is given its rhyme and reason within the first few minutes of the show, with the bar acting as a fitting stage for a series of anecdotes told by two staff members, played by Ross Wylie and Jacqueline Thain, as well as the eponymous stranger himself, portrayed by William Watt. The topics change in rapid succession, jumping from the lives and habits of bar regulars to the adventures of a sentient shadow.

It is this medley of narratives that both makes and breaks the play. The combination of urban myths and legends with more grounded observations on human nature makes for a compelling mélange, but without an overarching storyline, however minimal, it can also feel disjointed. For most of the play, there is minimal interaction between the characters, with every story recounted uninterruptedly before an often abrupt jump into the next one. With no distinct character development, the actors seem to be little more than vessels for the delivery of tales, although it could be argued that it was the desired effect.

It is clear that a lot of love and dedication has gone into the creation of A Stranger Walks into a Bar. The inclusion of folklore and surrealism, the genuine dedication to storytelling for its own sake, and the bigger project involving the collection of tales on the show’s blog, make this a promising concept with a lot of room for growth. With alcohol and storytelling being two nearly universal human pleasures, the concept has a timeless appeal that, when combined with the sheer variety of themes and the unpretentious setting, has the potential to draw in people from all walks of life. After all, you can never go wrong with a cold pint and a good story or five.

[Ralitsa Nox Petrova]

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