Review: The Weir

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 25 March 2014 in Culture
Culture
Anoosh Chakelian reviews chilling cocktail of story-telling The Weir during the play's strictly limited season at Wyndham's Theatre

“A bit of local colour,” sneers a theatrical old boozer, Jack, to his drinking partners in their local, an at once cosy and lonely Irish pub which provides The Weir’s sole setting.

And this is exactly what Conor McPherson’s classic 1997 play appears to be. Gruff yet sentimental Irish blokes having pints and “small ones”, sitting around a bar, discussing the quirks of this isolated chunk of countryside where they have always lived. “A peace and quiet overload,” is how Brian Cox’s ebullient Jack puts it.

Yet as the light visibly fades through the pub window, the sinister undertones of this bunch of solitary scruff’s stories become ever clearer, from rumbling out of sight to suddenly surfacing, drenching all involved in memory and dread.

Very little actually happens. The plot is simply a newcomer to the area, Valerie, entering this male territory to join them for a drink. Watching the four men – of varying ages and dispositions – grappling to accommodate a real, actual woman is less a source of cosy comedy than a significant disturbance in the balance of their lives.

As she sips a tumbler of wine gingerly poured by shyly handsome barman, Brendan (Peter McDonald), and the men encircle her, treating her to some ghostly stories about their village, it’s clear none of them would have thought it would be Valerie – played by a poised Dervla Kirwan – who has the most disturbing tale to tell.

Cox, by nature of the character he is playing, steals most of the limelight, lurching drunkenly from cynic to heartbroken to engaging raconteur. But his buddies are equally arresting. Father Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon, who plays the retiring, reticent Jim, is a treat with his awkward asides and occasional flashes of apologetic confidence. Even the flashy, linen-suited Finbar (Risteard Cooper) – a local fella-done-good – gives an absorbing and oddly matter-of-fact performance as it appears he is one of the truest, and most distressed, believers in what he dismisses as “old cod”.

Such a play could have the danger of plodding, with its unchanging set, use of silences and grunts from the men as central to the dialogue, and its lack of interval. However, the chemistry of the cast and fluctuating tone of their stories and rapport is what keeps the energy up. The audience will need a swift drink themselves after this.

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