(Review published on Remote Goat 14/3/2012)
Conor McPherson’s play has been widely performed and much loved by audiences and critics since its debut at The Royal Court in 1997. Its great reputation makes its simplicity surprising to the first-time spectator: The Weir is set in a humble environment with ordinary people and at first, there seems to be nothing very remarkable about it.
The venue, the tiny Barons Court Theatre, is most apt for The Weir: to sit in the audience is to feel as if you are sitting right in its Irish rural bar, accurately evoked as a scruffy, ramshackle den by designer Barrie Addenbroke. Five characters seek refuge here: Brendan, the quiet barman (Marcus McMahon); Jack, the ageing mechanic (David Anthony Green); Jim, a handyman who still lives with his mum and has a mild learning disability (Scott Williams); Finbar, the brash property developer (Andrew Barrett); and Valerie, the newcomer from Dublin, poised and brittle with a sad secret (Lara Wilks Sloan).
The night begins with banter about the weather (howling wind) and the draught stout (off), and moves into the telling of ghost stories. The men use Valerie as a new audience for some familiar tales, and yet are still able to chill themselves as they recount personal brushes with Death and Fairies. In between, they drink a vast amount of beer and whiskey, doing nothing to dispel the image of the Irish as capacious liquor consumers, even though tomorrow is a working day. The character of the stories changes when Valerie gets to her feet and tells the men the true story of why she has moved to the country – ghosts feature in her narrative too, but the substance of it is heartbreakingly real. Finally, perhaps emboldened by Valerie’s confession, Jack tells a tale about his lost love, a poignant and all too familiar slice of a life.
The Weir is wonderfully accurate in its representation of a night in a bar in Ireland (but also, Anywhere) with the fractured rhythms of real speech, the petty squabbling, the talking behind each other’s backs, the camaraderie and the gentle revelations of life in all its mystery and sadness. It is a very endearing piece, and hard not to like, in spite of a little roughness in CP Theatre’s production. I would love more rigorously authentic accents, and the casting is somewhat approximate in a couple of cases. Honours go to Marcus McMahon whose kind, understated Brendan feels absolutely real, and Scott Williams for doing some brave expressive work with Jim, a loveable childlike man. David Anthony Greene captures much of Jack’s warm, rueful old bachelor but is a bit too young for the role. That said, the script often transcends the flaws in the production.
The Weir is no blockbuster, but a window onto a world, a compassionate examination of what it is to be human, and a plea for the value of telling stories to deal with life’s challenges. Its atmosphere is catching, and it has a benevolently haunting quality that suggests the play will stay lingering in the mind. Much like a good night out with friends.