Writer: Conor McPherson
Director: Josie Rourke
Reviewer: Michael Brown
Since its 1997 debut at the Royal Court, Conor McPherson’s play The Weir has rapidly risen to the status of modern masterpiece and even made it onto the National Theatre’s list of the top 100 most significant plays of the 20th Century. And in its first major revival, by Josie Rourke for the Donmar Warehouse, it more than lives up to the billing with a delicately magical production that captures much of the Irish gift for storytelling with a stellar cast who are simply unmissable.
On the face of it, the play is rather unassuming. Played out in real-time of 100 minutes in a quiet pub in deepest rural Ireland, a group of lonely souls gather over pints of beer and hefty shots of whiskey to shoot the breeze and rehash age-old friendships and rivalries. This all-male environment is shaken up though with the arrival of Dubliner Valerie as the men engage in a bout of storytelling, each trying to outdo the other with their ever-more elaborate tales of the strange and supernatural but as we come to see, it is the stories with the ring of deep emotional truth that have the greatest power.
This is a hugely atmospheric production – Neil Austin’s lighting design is masterful – and frequently leaves the audience spellbound as the characters weave their haunting tales and subtly reveal aspects of their personalities and long-suffering lives in the way they talk and also in the way they interact with each other and the newcomer. And it all feels just so natural, we could just be sat in any local bar listening to the regulars gas away, such is the ease with which these performers occupy the stage in Tom Scutt’s marvellously realised pub set.
Brian Cox’s Jack is the Guinness-soaked soul of the piece, relishing the infrequent opportunity to hold court as he lords it over the others in the pub and hugely compelling both as he kicks off the round of ghost stories and as he lays himself bare with a gut-wrenching revelation at the show’s close. And if he is the soul, then Dervla Kirwan’s Valerie is most definitely the heart with as understated and consequently affecting performance as we’re likely to see on a London stage all year. Peter McDonald’s bartender and Ardal O’Hanlon and Risteárd Cooper as the other two storytellers also impress highly and the cumulative effect is one that is truly magnificent.