DramaReviewSouth East

The Weir – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre,  Guildford

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director: Adele Thomas

Reviewer: Steve Turner

The Weir of the title is a run-down pub somewhere in the Irish countryside. Here we meet Jack the local garage owner, Jim an odd job man and sometime assistant to Jack, and Brendan the landlord, passing the evening together as they would seem to pass many evenings.

Enter Finbar, a sometime regular at the pub, hotel owner and a little more brash and outspoken than the others, and with him is a young woman Valerie. It turns out that Valerie is renting a property from Finbar and he is her local guide. Where else would he take her on a stormy night, than down to the pub?  Once at the pub Finbar’s boastful, abrasive tones contrast with the languid, mellow voices of the regulars, Finbar is the self-appointed success story always with ‘an eye for the gap’, whilst Jack, Jimmy and Brendan seem resigned to their fate, almost scared to change anything.

So far so normal, however, once Finbar encourages Jack to tell a story about fairies, things take a more chilling tone. Jack, Jim, and Finbar all recount tales of supernatural happenings that they have experienced, belatedly realising that they may be upsetting Valerie. It is Valerie however who has the most chilling tale to tell and by some way the most poignant.

Following in the long tradition of Irish storytelling, Conor McPherson’s tale keeps the audience riveted throughout with many subtle twists and turns, plenty of laughs and, as befits a quiet bar in the country, plenty of colourful language too. The sense of tension is enhanced by the fact that this is a one-act play so there is nothing to break the mesmeric spell resulting from the perfect combination of writing, directing and acting.

Adele Thomas directs with a light touch, the changes of atmosphere and pace are beautifully observed, with the switches of mood from humour to melancholy and back feeling very natural. The story is the thing here and the delicate approach from Thomas affords the space in which it can be told. Particularly well crafted are the long, drawn-out silences, interspersed with some low key sight gags and some equally low key but incredibly effective glances and gestures from the cast.

Sean Murray as the curmudgeonly Jack holds the story together, seemingly his greatest concern is having to drink Guinness from a bottle, he sneers at Finbar for having left, almost despising him for getting married and being a success. As tales are told by each of the cast, it is to Jack that they all turn looking for a word of wisdom, comfort or explanation at the end. John O’Dowd as Jim is the quiet, unassuming foil for Jack, neither of them ever married, both seem accepting of their lot, but whilst Jack seems to need to tell people he is resigned to his fate, Jim just gets on with it without a fuss.

Louis Dempsey as Finbar is slightly loud-mouthed, full of himself and proud of the fact that he owns half, or is it all? of the town. A one-time regular at the bar, he’s now got his own hotel, yet still feels the need to bring Valerie here, perhaps revealing a subconscious desire to be with his old friends. Behind the bar is Brendan, still young enough to get married and start a family, but seemingly struck by the same inertia that has kept Jack and Jim on one side of the bar with him on the other.

Valerie is brought to life by Natalie Radmall-Quirke, her outwardly cheery persona slowly stripped away to reveal the anguish beneath in a most compelling performance. Her recounting of the events which led to her coming to this area is delivered with a raw emotion that is as heartfelt as it is unexpected.

A detailed, yet somehow understated set, combined with some unobtrusive and skilfully handled lighting help reinforce the power of this play. A power that has not diminished in the twenty years since it was written, the depth of the characters’ underlying sadness still cutting through their outwardly jovial appearances. This work certainly deserves to be seen as a modern masterpiece.

Runs until 25th November | Image: Marc Brenner


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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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