The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Friday 27th October 2017
In a small Irish town – set among rolling hills, stood in defiance of fierce winds that blow inland off the sea – there sits a picturesque little pub, frequented by intriguing characters who love a good drink and a decent conversation. This is a community where everybody knows each other, the kind of place where a little old lady could spend all 90 years of her life living in the same house. The locals let themselves in and pour themselves a drink when the barman is busy elsewhere, they can even be trusted to loyally deposit the right money directly into the till.
The rural pub in which The Weir is set seems to be a bit of an Irish stereotype, yet it is so incredibly believable. The on-stage set is stunningly good – quite an achievement given that it depicts nothing more than a fairly drab pub interior. From the detail of the board games that probably never get played to the pointless pictures on the wall that no one really looks at anymore, so much effort has gone into the set that it genuinely feels that you could be in Ireland eavesdropping on the drunken ramblings of strangers.
The Weir tells the tale of one night in a pub, a night where only four customers enter, although their collective drinking efforts would certainly allay the fears of any landlord concerned about a drop in revenue. The strong Irish tradition of reciting stories becomes the theme of the night – most notably stories that have a dark and mysteriously supernatural twist to them.
Writer Conor McPherson won multiple awards and plaudits when The Weir made its debut 20 years ago, and deservedly so – the manner in which the plot meanders from idle chit-chat in a pub to intense drama as each character successively launches into a dark and disturbing tale from their past feels effortless and thus alluring.
Two other factors in this production contribute heavily to the overall quality of the performance: firstly, the use of occasional and very subtle background music and sound effects (mainly the sound of howling wind screaming through the gaps around the door frame); and secondly the lighting effects are superb, very slow, gradual changes in brightness and focus that take several minutes to complete have the magical effect of drawing attention and imagination to the tales being told.
Throughout the show, all of these factors combine to create an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty. As the pints keep flowing and the shots of whiskey come out, there is the awkward and uncomfortable sense that one of these characters is going to kick off, or someone’s going to take offence at what’s being said. It genuinely feels like being in a pub where people have had too much to drink and the atmosphere begins to get a little uneasy.
The star of the show is Sean Murray, who plays the role of Jack – a hard-drinking, no nonsense kind of man who seems to be full of wisdom and learning, yet at the same time he doesn’t hesitate in displaying unnecessary physical aggression towards his old friend Finbar. The on-stage dynamic is cleverly fractured by the presence of Natalie Radmall-Quirke playing the role of Valerie – the presence of a mysterious woman seeming to both intrigue and alarm the men around her, even more so when she eventually silences them all with a shocking tale of her own.
The Weir is a beautifully moody and atmospheric production, an hour and a half of believable escapism; it is simultaneously uplifting and amusing, as well as carrying a sinister and sombre edge. A skilfully written play based on a relatively simple premise, the effort that has gone in to this production results in a performance that lacks for nothing.