The Weir - hard-hitting, thoughtful theatre

The Weir - hard-hitting, thoughtful theatre

'Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing/To what I shall unfold' Act I, Scene V Hamlet

The Weir is bewitching- uprooting the Irish pub in which it is set by tugging on the threads of its supernatural past and present. The naturalistic set which cuts across the stage with a harsh diagonal, already sets up the idea of the story poised to unfold. The set seems taut, as if waiting with the audience for the entrance of a character: for the beginning of the first story. As my friend said, ‘very Pinter-esque’. The lighting which pulses eerily at the beginning and end, suggests that the pub is surrounded by unnatural forces and thereby sets the play on edge- as light becomes a signifier later on during unsettling moments. Recognition becomes a familiar theme as the ghost stories expose elements of fear and genuine companionship which the characters recognise within themselves. 

I was excited to see the much-lauded performance of The Weir at the Old Vic, and it did not disappoint. Having read the play a few years earlier, I had my preconceptions of it being an intensely morose spectacle; however much of the play revolves around the distinctively effortless humour of Jim, Finbar, Jack and Brendan as they each contest for Valerie’s charm. As much about the process of story-telling than anything else, the actors transcend their various stock characters of the Irish pub- the affable young barman constantly ‘debating’ whether he should take his next pint; the Irish lad trying to impress the new girl- by bringing a sense of fluency which removes the characters’ predictability. And of course, the ritual of drinking provides warm relief, leading the audience to escape the uncomfortable feeling of stasis which subsumes the play. Just as we are lulled into the Irish craic, into the familiarity of a pub atmosphere with the broken tap and the fireplace, McPherson manages to subvert all this with an interjection which shifts the mood to one of unsettling foreboding. Then, the pub becomes effectively the last outpost for these men, who, over a glass of Guinness- woefully from the bottle- bring into play not just the fairy tales, but their aching sense of loneliness.

Sean Murray as Jack 

Sean Murray as Jack 

For after the pub is closed, and the curtain down, we have to question which ghosts matter more- the ones of the stories, or the ghosts of the past. Although many of the chilling revelations provided the sort of adrenaline-charged fear synonymous with a good ghost story, essentially what we take from the play is the need for human company. Adele Thomas’ direction provides everything the play needs; the characters each become their own and outdo each other with their nuanced handling of the script. However there will always be the worry that anything to do with fairy tales can get a little ‘silly’. During The Woman in Black the audience has to invest in the genre of Gothic horror, but The Weir is all the more chilling because of the constant tension between fiction and reality. Some of the fairy-tales do seem quite ridiculous. And yet equally we can suspend our disbelief long enough to find truth in these tales. A minor issue would be clumsy lighting during some of the more intense scenes – the blue and green lights seemed a little distracting, and perhaps took away some legitimacy from the stories.

However I enjoyed the way in which the play also questions our sense of the super-natural. Valerie, who is an alien to the village, acts like a touchstone through which the characters reveal their sense of self. Their desperation to impress someone, even a stranger, shows the importance of listening. Significantly the play ends with memories of past relationships and the ache of missed opportunity. Sometimes something foreign is needed to displace everything and bring back the past- a different type of ghost story maybe, but one upon which The Weir thrives.

****

Four stars

Esther Bancroft, Theatre Editor, English Literature student