Writer: Connor McPherson
Director: Adele Thomas
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
Just as there are some bands who seem born to perform in stadiums and others whose natural home will forever be small, sweaty venues, there are some plays that demand a large theatre and others best appreciated in more intimate surroundings. The Weir falls into the latter category.
Set in a remote Irish bar a long way from any major town, it seems tailor made for the kind of venue where the point where the audience ends and the stage begins is hard to define. In a large space, everything changes. The opening moments when Jack, the first customer, enters and makes himself at home before the landlord’s arrival, are almost too intricate to work. It takes a while for the warmth of the relationships and conversations to come across, and you long to be closer to the action, to feel as well as see what is happening.
On the night the play is set, the usual male clientele are joined by Valerie. This is not a bar that gets a lot of female customers, and while Valerie is not made to feel unwelcome, it is clear that Brendan, Jack and his other main regular, Jim, are not used to female company. Of the three men, only Jim shares his home with a woman, and the woman in question is his ma. In contrast, Finbar, who invited Valerie and rarely drinks there himself, is married. This may be the reason he is meeting her in the bar.
Thankfully the play is not about marital fidelity, instead it is about the stories told in bars, where fact and fiction collide and myths and legends are born. Through the stories told by the men another story emerges, told by Valerie. Where her story differs is that it is told from first-hand experience. It gives a context to the other stories and to the setting. A remote Irish bar is the only place where this play could happen. Conor McPherson’s script perfectly captures the language, characters and location of the play, merging them together and drawing the audience in as tales are told and lives are lived.
Sam O’Mahony as Brendan, captures the naïve charm of a man who is considerably younger than any of his customers, but very similar to them in terms of outlook and ambitions. Sean Murray is equally convincing as Jack, a man who has spent his entire life in one place through a mixture of contentment and fear of the unknown, while John O’Dowd’s portrayal of Jim brings to mind a more intelligent version of Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. The flashier, more confident, Finbar, played by Louis Dempsey, comes across as a combination of aspirational used car salesman and a person who has not moved as far from his beginnings as he would like to believe he has. Completing the cast, Natalie Radmall-Quirke as Valerie, rightly creates gentle ripples, rather than massive waves, as she enters the world of the men.
It’s a lovingly crafted, warm-hearted story that slowly draws you in, and builds to a rewarding end. After a slow start it manages to get over being in a space that feels far too big for the story.
Runs until 24 February 2018 | Image: Marc Brenner