When an award-winning play tours the country expectations are understandably high.This was the case for The Weir by Conor McPherson. It’s been over twenty years since the play premiered but its popularity remains high in the theatrical world. The English Touring Theatre, alongside the Mercury Theatre Colchester, brings back this beloved play for a tour around Great Britain this season.
Directed by Adele Thomas, this production gets a revamped look but remains a well-crafted and immersive story. Set in a pub in rural Ireland an atmosphere of familiarity and normality is conjured that contrasts with the stories of ghosts and myths being told. Jack (Sean Murray), a local and regular at the pub, is the first to enter. He pours himself a drink and is then joined by Brendan (Sam O’Mahony), the lonely pub owner. Jim (John O’Dowd) then joins the pair. It seems ordinary, an everyday routine. Beer is being poured, cigarettes smoked and stories exchanged. Out of the ordinary, that night, a young woman arrives in the village. Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), who is being escorted around the area by Finbar (Louis Dempsey), another local brings a new edge to the everyday proceedings. Their arrival to the pub elicits awkwardness and a feeling of the uncanny. This feeling continues from Valerie having to drink wine from a pint glass to ghost stories being shared, and then culminating in Valerie sharing her unsettling past.
Although the cast is strong, Sean Murray’s performance as Jack stands out. His rough and resigned Jack has great cutting lines and brings real emotion to the play in the last quarter. Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s interpretation of Valerie and her stand-out monologue creates tension and suggests a deep melancholy buried in her character. Her story, although sad and deeply moving, doesn’t manage to elicit these feelings from the audience and so I felt her performance fell a little flat.
Valerie’s detachment and bottled up emotions are further made visible by the change of lighting to a cold blue. A very strong point of this play is its fearlessness of pauses and silence. In fact, the first five minutes are in utter silence. And this continues with pauses in between conversation and long stretches of silence and looks. Although the tales of the supernatural are haunting, the truly effective uncanniness is evoked by these stretches of silence throughout the play. Outstanding, and of most importance for this play, is also the spectacular use of lighting and sound. The pub is placed in a box framed by lighting which indicates the beginning and ending of the play. The change of lighting, like the colours changing from a warm yellow to a cold blue, play a big part in creating the atmosphere. The music further underlines and supports the atmosphere and emotions created.
Unfortunately, it took me a while to get into it. The pace at the beginning was very slow and I needed some time to connect to the characters. The slowness, at the beginning, was surprising but as it continued I found it took a lot of concentration and attentiveness to stay focused. The dialogue was sometimes so quiet that I had to lean in and listen intently. Although it takes a while to get started, the play managed to capture and engulf the audience in its authenticity and atmosphere. The Weir is a gripping and memorable play that needs the commitment of the audience. However once it captures your attention it will stay in your mind for much longer than its 1 hour and 40 minute run.
Guest Reviewer: Leonie Verstegge