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The Weir

by on 28 February 2018

Guinness is a Dark Drink

The Weir

by Conor McPherson

English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre co-production
at Richmond Theatre until 3rd March, tour continues until 10th March

Review by Celia Bard

I was delighted to be asked to review this play at Richmond as it is the first time that I’ve seen The Weir performed on a ‘large’ proscenium style stage. In smaller open stage theatres, it would not be unusual for an audience to feel that they are part of the same setting as the characters: in the case of The Weir, sitting in the same snug and eavesdropping on a group of locals enjoying the hospitality of their remote, rural pub on a bleak, blustery night, and amusing themselves by telling ghost stories. I wondered was there a risk that this level of intimacy would be lost at Richmond Theatre.

Weir-449

To a certain extent my fears were unfounded. The quality of the writing, the ghost stories, the rhythm of the dialogue, the acting strengths of some of the actors and the overall soundness of direction succeeded in drawing the audience into a world of casual bar joking and sometimes not so friendly local talk and gossip. The feeling of intimacy was also achieved by this production’s imaginative stage construction, set on the vertical and horizontal diagonal which created the illusion of a small one room bar. The shabby bar furniture, the wood burning stove, the atmospheric use of lighting, notably the firelight, the subtle spotlighting of story tellers all helped focus the attention of the audience, leading them to believe that they were in a real bar. Sound effects were minimal apart from the occasional sound of a howling wind, and loud clanking noises at the beginning and ending of the play, suggesting perhaps the noise of the water overflowing in the nearby dam? There was little, apart from dialogue references, to indicate that the night was wild and stormy.

The title of the play, The Weir, is interesting. It takes its name from the hydroelectric dam on the nearby river in Sligo. A weir, as many of you will know, regulates the flow of a river holding back the body of water until levels rise and the torrent of water cascades over the barricades. Metaphorically, this is what happens with this group of characters. On the surface they are jovial and full of bonhomie, but gradually this friendly banter gives way to deeper, disturbing emotions in part triggered off by the arrival of Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke) a troubled young woman who comes to this part of Ireland to get away from her troubles.

Weir-1406

The four men, Jack (Sean Murray), Jim (John O’Dowd), Finbar (Louis Dempsey) and Brendan (Sam O’Mahony) are long standing acquaintances and drinking buddies. They know each other’s weaknesses and foibles and are happy to tap into these in a friendly way. The ghost stories they tell, intended to impress, and spook the newcomer from Dublin, become more disturbing and result in themselves becoming spooked. The only person who hasn’t a story to tell is Brendan, the barman. Perhaps this is because he more part of the fabric of the pub rather than an individual character. He doesn’t say much, we learn about his life from other characters.

Weir O'Mahony

Jack, a bachelor, and local garage owner, has lived in the area all his life but because of his fear of leaving the village to go to Dublin he loses the love of his first sweetheart. He counsels Brendan, the young publican, from making the same mistake as himself. Finbar, Jack’s adversary, is a local businessman who has moved away from Ireland and made good. He returns that night to the pub with a potential buyer of one of his properties, Valerie, offering to take care of her and to show her around. The regulars mistrust Finbar’s motives towards her. The group is completed by Jim, the middle aged local man and Jack’s assistant.

Weir Natlie RQ

There is very little physical action in the play, apart from the entrances and exits of characters in the pub, and is played out in real time in one location. Each character has a monologue, but these are skilfully entwined in the naturalistic exchanges between characters. The dialogue ebbs and flows between casual bar talk and the stories told by four of the characters.

The movement on the stage for the most part worked to the advantage of the characters when delivering their stories, apart from Jim’s somewhat contrived movement to the fireplace when telling his ghost story about the graveyard. His over use of the fourth wall when delivering this story robbed it of tension. The piece is well shaped in terms of the ebb and flow of the dialogue. The acting is naturalistic; unfortunately, the actors, apart from the two characters Jack and Finbar, fall into the trap of dropping their voices and this led to some problems with audibility and meaning, especially when speaking with broad Irish accents. Valerie’s story is moving, but the voice of the actress is at times inaudible and her accent is not convincing, sounding English rather than Dublin Irish. Props and technical resources were used well by all the actors, e.g. using the pumps, lighting cigarettes and smoking, looking for keys, using the till, pouring drinks. Such was the drinking prowess of Jack and Finbar I wondered whether there was a real toilet in the wings!

Weir Dempsey

The two actors playing Finbar and Jack were outstanding. Louis Dempsey had a very strong stage presence and physically filled the stage. The smart, well-cut, light-coloured suit he wears sets him apart from the other characters, which is right. He is totally believable in this role. His re-telling of the story about the little people, which triggers in him a ghostly memory about a woman meeting an otherworldly woman on the stairs, succeeds in engrossing the audience, and at the same time unnerves Valerie.

Weir Murray

Finbar’s nemesis, Jack, is beautifully portrayed by Sean Murray. The interaction between these two characters is fierce and memorable. Sean’s storytelling skills and his ability to hold an audience is impressive as demonstrated when telling the story about the fairies knocking on the floor, and when he recalls memories about his visit to Dublin to attend the marriage of his former sweetheart, the audience feel his lonely despair; even more so when he recounts the incident of the publican giving him a slice of bread, cheese, ham and onion to cheer him up. Jack undergoes a cathartic transformation, and this is shown is his ebullient behaviour when exiting with Valerie in the final scene.

For most of the time I felt I was in an authentic, remote Irish bar, enjoying a piece of old Irish charm and the storytelling gifts for which the Irish are so well known. The Weir was originally intended for a smaller more intimate venue; however, this production part achieves this, notably with its very clever set design and memorable performances by some actors.

Celia Bard
February 2018

Photography by Marc Brenner

 

 

 

From → Drama, Reviews

2 Comments
  1. Joseph Lamb permalink

    I saw this play performed by an amateur group at the Mary Willis Theatre in Twickenham. It was just superb

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