January 22, 2014 6:01 pm

The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre, London – review

Conor McPherson’s 1997 drama is confirmed here as a contemporary classic
Ardal O'Hanlon in 'The Weir'©Helen Warner

Ardal O'Hanlon in 'The Weir'

That famous appraisal of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as a play in which “nothing happens” could well be applied to The Weir. A few moth-eaten blokes gather in a remote Irish country pub and tell ghost stories to impress a young female newcomer. But the genius of Conor McPherson in this humane 1997 play – which confirms its status as a contemporary classic in Josie Rourke’s beautifully acted revival – is to make you realise that the important action lies in the act of revelation.

Each character (except the barman) tells a story that touches on the supernatural, each story is more disturbing than the last, and through those stories they reveal something of themselves. By so doing they reach tentatively towards one another but also, briefly, twitch aside the veil between the concrete world and the metaphysical. Though, strictly speaking, nothing much happens, each of them is changed by the encounter. In essence, it is a story about why we tell stories. It’s gently, deftly done, wrapped up casually in comic banter and booze, and it is precisely handled here by Rourke’s superb cast.


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As with his newer play, The Night Alive (staged alongside this production at the Donmar Warehouse last year), McPherson creates a handful of bruised characters: for them, the pub offers sanctuary. The locals Jack and Jim are both loners, but what Brian Cox as Jack – all bark and bluster – and Ardal O’Hanlon as Jim – slow and painfully shy – both convey is that these are damaged men who have retreated from love. Like many of Chekhov’s characters, they are aware of what is happening to them, but not quite able to change it. Brendan (Peter McDonald, subtly excellent), the youngish barman, seems to be heading the same way. Then there is Finbar (Risteárd Cooper), the local boy made good, who flashes the cash and the confidence, but whose disproportionate rage after one story suggests nagging uncertainties.

The arrival of Valerie, an attractive woman who gamely sips the half-pint of white wine proffered by Brendan, puts the men on their mettle. But her story of devastating personal loss – so quietly delivered by Dervla Kirwan that the audience hold their breath – changes them and that subtly moves the play into deeper waters. The pub becomes a little microcosm as the characters grapple, together, with the incomprehensible. The play is a masterpiece that both celebrates empathy and invites it, handled with wonderful sympathy in this fine staging.


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