Re:View – ‘The Weir’
It’s hard to believe that Conor McPherson’s play about four lonely men and one woman in an Irish pub is already seven years old, but Josie Rourke’s production at the wonderful Wyndham’s Theatre (possibly the most old-school English theatre in London) is magnificent and still as intimate as it was at the Donmar. I’m allergic to Oirish whimsy, and at an hour and three quarters run straight through I thought it would be a long night, but the creeping dread of the play gradually grips and won’t let go until the audience is rapt.
It’s about the power of ghost stories, or rather the way in which myths and folk tales spin and resonate from painfully real and ordinary lives. In the extremely realistic setting of a lonely moorland pub, the wind howling outside, eerie dark brickwork above, we meet these lost souls – the youngish barman who’s destined never to leave, the lothario who made good and got out, the garrulous and hard-drinking garage owner (Brian Cox), the socially awkward handyman (Ardal O’Hanlon) and the new lass (Dervla Kirwan) who has taken over the old cottage nearby.
The woman’s arrival changes the pub’s dynamic. No-one does socially awkward like O’Hanlon, who tops even his Father Ted performances for being uncomfortable around a female here. Each man has a tale to tell her – the yarns start out by being overblown and fanciful, embellished and burnished with time and repetition, party pieces for the locals, but they start to get darker. By the time we reach O’Hanlan’s supremely unpleasant tale of what happened in the churchyard, we’re on shifting ground. But after that it’s Kirwan’s matter-of-fact true story and then Cox’s heart-rending admission that top any ghost stories, as we see how the real tragedy of lost lives can be transmuted into other forms, and can provide balm for the most suffering of souls.
Oddly the weir itself, referred to only once in a photograph, has no part in the play – but you get to thinking that perhaps the picture, too, hides painful secret histories. This is one corner of the world that the online network of social sharing has yet to reach, and it’s all the better for it.
There are hilarious moments, from the publican’s lack of knowledge about how to pour a glass of wine to a confusion about where Germans are from, but it’s the resonance of ghosts dead and alive that stays with you, out into the night. Superb stuff.