‘A captivating world where ordinary lives touch the extraordinary’: THE WEIR – Touring ★★★

In Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray

An evening of tall tales puts a spotlight on the human heart as the King’s presents Conor McPherson’s modern Irish classic, The Weir.

The playing area shows an empty pub. The lights flash on and off, darting across the stage. A blaze of white and the play begins with the arrival of a lone man, wiry, nearing old-age, wanting nothing more than to swap the cold for a drink and a fag. He goes behind the bar, checks himself in the mirror and grabs some alcohol.

A young man arrives by a side door, tends to the fire. Turns out the first fella, Jack, isn’t the landlord, that’s the younger guy, Brendan. But Brendan is fine with the self-service, The Weir is that kind of pub.

McPherson’s 1997 hit is set in rural Ireland, far from the bright lights and booming economy of Dublin. And that’s fine for bachelors Brendan and Jack. They’re soon joined by garage owner Jack’s assistant, Jim, and the three discuss local lad made good Finbar, whom they reckon is cheating on his wife with a young woman, Valerie, who’s just moved down from Dublin.

When the pair arrives – Brendan, Jack and Jim assume they’re the ‘local colour’ – Finbar does seem rather taken with the pretty Valerie, but as the whisky and beer flow, the men forget the potential scandal as talk turns to the supernatural.

Jack, Jim and Finbar swap tales of spooky, sometimes sinister, occurrences, each story creepier than the last. When Valerie leaves to use Brendan’s living quarters loo – this is a man’s world where there’s little impetus to fix the broken Ladies – the men start fretting that they’re spooking the ‘blow-in’ – an outsider in the community.

As it turns out, Valerie is grateful to hear of their encounters with a world beyond the everyday, a realm of ghosts and fairies and boggarts, because it gives her hope that she’s not ‘bananas’. Valerie has a tale of her own, one far sadder and spookier than their own. And finally, one of the men tells another story, of a haunting that has less to do with spirits than loneliness and regret.

If you’re not Irish, it may take several minutes to attune your ears to the brogue spoken by the men in this play. There’s no concession made for those of us whose knowledge of rural Ireland begins and ends with Father Ted. But when you do tune in, you’re reeled into a captivating world where ordinary lives touch the extraordinary.
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McPherson’s characterisations are hugely well-observed and imagined, from prosperous braggart Finbar (Louis Dempsey) to Brendan (Sam O’Mahoney), barely able to credit that there may be something out there for him beyond his bar.

full of potential

There’s Jack (Sean Murray), whose cantankerous cussing masks a tender heart, and Jim (John O’Dowd), full of potential but tied to the village by his sick mother. And then there’s the charming, damaged Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), whom these men, so set in their ways, may finally free.

Sean Murray, John O Dowd, Sam O Mahony, Natalie Radmall-Quirke and Louis Dempsey. Pic: Marc Brenner

The ensemble cast members support one another from beginning to end, while relishing the spotlight moment their stories give them. Only Brendan doesn’t have a tale to tell, but O’Mahoney’s charisma and talent ensures he holds his own.

Adele Thomas’ measured direction for Mercury Theatre Colchester and English Touring Theatre benefits the play, with tone changes subtly engineered – mention of a ‘Luigi board’ doesn’t deflate Finbar’s terror tale of a spectral old woman sitting on a staircase, watching…

The only real off-note is the mildly eerie music that pipes up from nowhere as the narratives reach their climax; it’s cheesy and, given the strength of script and players, unnecessary. And while Radmall-Quirke’s oh-so-quiet recounting of Valerie’s past draws you to lean forward, creates an intimacy, a bit more power on the mic would have been appreciated.

More slice of life drama than supernatural thriller, The Weir may make you feel a little kindlier towards your fellows. And that can’t be bad.

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on RssThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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