The Weir

If there’s one moment in this new production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir that encapsulates the quality of its cast and director, it’s towards the close when a moment of genuine emotional tension is deliberately punctured by what, in other hands, could be nothing more than a crass joke. Yet here, the moment is held just long enough to be effective, while the comment – in some respects coming as a genuine relief – remains grounded in the humanity of the character in question.

modern classic, but director Amanda Gaughan and her all-Irish cast offer a compelling justification of its status. With an innate understanding of the natural rhythms of the dialogue, the cast bring nuanced life to what at first might appear to be a collection of somewhat archetypal characters.

At first this play might seem nothing more than a collection of mildly supernatural stories, told by a set of frustrated men out to impress a lone woman suddenly in their midst. Yet the tales, invariably, reveal more about the tellers than about the supernatural, and it’s clear that The Weir is a meditation on some pretty universal concerns: it’s “about” solitude, grief and the communities and relationships we make for ourselves as a consequence.

Gaughan’s production, on the whole, is grounded in Francis O’Connor’s realistic set, although the choice to have the walls semi-transparent (depending on Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design, half revealing the wind and rain “outside”) is an excellent visual metaphor for the layers of reality that appear to break down in the ghost stories that are told.

Gary Lydon excels here as garage-owner Jack, first on stage and making the journey from superficial grumpiness to a more subtle regret when admitting his decision to remain a relatively big fish in the small local pond. This puts him in immediate conflict with Frank Mccosker’s earnest Finbar, who made it all the way to Dublin and is now the most obviously successful among them – married, relatively well-off, and yet still clearly looking for some kind of validation. Despite everything, the pair are almost like brothers.

Brian Gleeson as bar owner Brendan is a relatively quiet soul, but he effectively suggests the younger man’s frustration in his situation. In contrast, Darragh Kelly rises to the challenge of playing the kind-hearted Jim; the older man, brought down by caring for an elderly mother, could have been little more than a lost cast member from Last of the Summer Wine, but Kelly gives him real heart and depth. Yet it’s Lucian McEvoy, arguably, who has the most difficult role as the “down from Dublin” Valerie, given relatively little to do while the men talk around her – at least until she hits them and the audience for six with her own backstory.

It’s not always easy approaching a play that’s already been described as a modern classic, but director Amanda Gaughan and her all-Irish cast offer a compelling justification of its status. With an innate understanding of the natural rhythms of the dialogue, the cast bring nuanced life to what at first might appear to be a collection of somewhat archetypal characters. And they come together effortlessly in a work that, while appearing simple to understand, has depths which linger in the memory long afterwards.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

“There’s no dark like a winter night in the country. And there was a wind like this one,howling and whistling in off the sea. It was this type of night now. Am I setting the scene for you?”

You are guaranteed a good laugh and warm welcome when you join the local lads in Brendan’s Bar county Leitrim. When a young woman arrives from Dublin, the fellas impress her with their local ghost stories but as the night draws in, Valerie will share a haunting tale of her own.

Winner of the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Olivier Award for Best New Play, Conor McPherson's moving, elegiac tale is a masterpiece of modern theatre. Quietly compelling and strangely chilling, The Weir is the perfect story for a winter night.

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