BWW Reviews: THE WEIR, Wyndham's Theatre, January 21 2014
At a Q&A at the National Theatre in 2011, Conor McPherson was asked if he believed in ghosts. The forthright question got an equivocal answer that leant towards yes. And - in an an equivocating way - it's a question at the heart of The Weir, which deals the problems facing a depopulated rural community in Ireland through a narrative woven with traditional folklore and superstition.
The Donmar Warehouses's production, directed by Josie Rourke, has transferred to the West End and its strong cast make it a riveting watch. The play is nearly two hours long, with no interval, and is set in a single scene: and isolated pub, where out-of-towner Valerie (Dervla Kirwan), who has just moved into the area from Dublin, meets the locals. She's been taken under the wing of wealthy hotel-owner Finbar (Risteard Cooper) and the other men are jealous - they all want to try their chances with her. Only landlord Brendan (Peter McDonald) could be described as eligible, but it's been a while since a woman dropped by. When Valerie asks for a white wine he has to go out back to his house to fetch one he got "as a present or something", and serves it to her in a pint glass, being sure to fill it to the brim.
Over the course of a long evening, the men tell stories about age-old subjects like love, death and families, and reminisce about events that have happened in their shared past. McPherson's ear for voices gives these stories their depth and, together with the very realistic pub set which sees pints pulled all night, thrusts us into the drama of events being narrated, making us attentive listeners throughout the long single act.
At times, Rourke's direction plays up the country bumpkin comedy of the play, and it's unfortunate that Ardal O'Hanlon's character is quite so similar to his part in Father Ted - from the outset the audience is too ready to laugh at him. There's a lot to laugh at in The Weir without having to ramp up rustic goofiness. McPherson's humour is quiet, and when the actors play for belly laughs the gentler humour of the dialogue suffers somewhat.
That said, the acting is excellent. Brian Cox as Jack - the gregarious, storytelling drunk - carries the show, which calls for a big personality to drive an uneventful narrative. Dervla Kirwan is excellent in the tricky part of Valerie, who spends most of her time listening politely to the men she's just met, and tolerating their flirting. When she eventually tells her own story to the room, Kirwan delivers the crystal clear, highly moving monologue, superbly. The audience follow every word just as attentively as her on-stage listeners do.
In The Weir, McPherson makes room for the inexplicable in ordinary modern life. As the stranger from out of town leaves the pub at the end of the evening, there is a sense that the traditions of storytelling and a tolerance of others, which the pub has represented tonight, have given the city-girl a way of accepting events that doesn't quite tally with a usual, modern way of thinking. McPherson's sensitive portrayal of people leaves in all the unresolved bits, and that's what makes the play so engrossing.