BWW Review: Bursting the Dam of Loneliness in THE WEIR

Four local men gather in a forgotten pub in a remote part of Ireland and attempt to impress an outsider, a young woman newly-arrived to the area, with their ghost stories, but she delivers a haunting story of loss that devastates them.

The Weir is justly regarded as a modern classic: on its premiere in 1997, the breakthrough work of Irish playwright Conor McPherson scooped prestigious awards in London and New York.

Unfolding without an intermission, The Weir is a searing study of loneliness laced with biting humour. Training a magnifying glass on the heartbreak of unfulfilled lives and the consolations and suffocations of home, the play is a soaring hymn to the power of storytelling.

A keynote of this Decadent Theatre production is capturing the rhythm of unhurried lives. Three of the four men are bachelors. When Jack, the most tortured of them, weighs up the benefits of the single life he unconvincingly proposes that "there's a lot to be said for your independence". This is followed by a pointed, excruciating pause that firmly subverts the suggestion.

On an admirably authentic set of a wood-panelled bar and a stone fireplace, director Andrew Flynn articulates the intimacy of McPherson's script as the male characters engage in macho jousting and - when buried resentments are exhumed - square up to each other like boxers in a ring.

As the ghost stories are told, however, Flynn deliberately slows the pace to effectively conjure an eerie, unsettling atmosphere.

Yet the production is also imbued with a sense of uncertainty. Although the play is set in the northwest of Ireland and revolves around characters from the area, the actors communicate in a hodgepodge of accents. Elsewhere, potential flashes of tension are underplayed while the device of a howling wind is heavy-handedly employed during the ghost stories.

If Garrett Keogh's Finbar lacks the character's requisite swagger and self-aggrandizement, Gary Lydon's portrayal of Jack reveals the fading flickers of charm and humanity smothering under a carapace of frustration.

Emphasizing Valerie's burgeoning confidence in her new environment, Janet Moran essays an expressive, finely-tuned performance as the stranger: when her body movements slump as she reaches the climax of her chilling story, it feels fully earned.

The Weir embodies many of McPherson's trademarks: a preoccupation with the monologue form and with dialogue that forensically mimics the vernacular through its unfinished sentences, pregnant pauses, and conversation fillers ("y'know").

In what could be a touchstone of McPherson's entire canon, Jack, in the middle of his ghost story, smilingly - and tellingly - reminds us that "you have to relish the details".

The Weir runs at The Everyman Cork, June 27-July 2; The Watergate Theatre Kilkenny, July 7-9; and The Pavilion Theatre Dún Laoghaire, July 12-30. See Decadent Theatre or @DecadentTheatre.

Photo Credit: Darragh Kane

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