DramaReviewSouth West

The Weir – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director:  Adele Thomas

Reviewer: Ben Miller-Jarvest

In a tiny local pub, in the depths of rural Ireland, five people come together, drink and tell stories. Brendon, the young owner, stands and listens, while Jack and Jim, a cantankerous old sot and his more mild-mannered associate, trade barbs with Finbar, their wealthy, successful friend and sparring-partner. Completing the set is Valerie, a stranger to the area, to whom Finbar has just sold a house. As the night wears on and the drink flows faster, stories are told, building gradually from a creepy old folk-tale to a very real and personal tragedy…

In this production of The Weir, directed by Adele Thomas, Brendon’s pub is brought to wonderfully dishevelled life through Madeline Girling’s detailed set and Lee Curran’s vivid lighting design. Curran’s work, in particular, helps to alter and build the atmosphere, shrinking the space to become small and intimate as a story-teller speaks, while moments later making the area feel lonely and barren. The only true misstep is a very shiny floor at the edge of the performance space which, when combined with a bright white light shining in through the glass in the pub’s door, creates a dazzling and distracting glare. 

The cast is all excellent. As the only one to tell two stories, Sean Murray has the most to do in playing Jack and manages to slip from twinkling to belligerent and back again with warmth and charm, while John O’Dowd prevents the softer, gentler Jim from going unnoticed. Louis Dempsey brings a restless energy to Finbar, and he, Murray and O’Dowd wonderfully sketch the relationship between the three men; a tense and irritable friendship, peppered with withering remarks and hidden affection. Natalie Radmall-Quirke is the only actor whose accent slips occasionally, though this is due in part to her using a much more subtle dialect to portray the incoming Dubliner. This is ultimately unimportant as she, playing Valerie, is left to do the emotional heavy lifting and does so with aplomb. She skillfully crafts a portrait of a woman carefully concealing her scars so that we can sense something traumatic has happened, even before her harrowing story begins. Though Brendon is denied a story of his own this, along with his position as host, allows him to take the role of arbiter and judge; he is the one to defend Valerie when the others doubt her story, as well as being the embodiment of potential hope for Valerie’s future. None of this makes Brendon an easy role to play without being totally overshadowed, and Sam O’Mahony does an excellent job, infusing the barman with an understated thoughtfulness.

Conor McPherson’s The Weir won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play in 1999, and English Touring Theatre’s production certainly does justice to this strange, sad, spooky and ultimately affirming play. McPherson sees storytelling as a way of forming bonds, of making empathetic connections and sharing lessons, and shows us a community passing through a long, dark night and emerging reinvigorated and with a new member. The Weir confirms our worst fears, that there really are fearful things waiting for us in the dark, but suggests that there also really is light at the end of the tunnel.

Runs until 21 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Reviews Hub Score

Sinister, moving & affirming

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