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Online Editor Helena Raymond-Hayling reviews the gorgeous and atmospheric production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir.

Presented by Mercury Theatre Colchester and English Touring Theatre, The Weir is a tale of normality borne from abnormality, and abnormality borne from normality. Written by Conor McPherson in 1997, The Weir has been a resounding success and has been performed in theatres all over the world since its initial run in the Royal Court Theatre. This latest production features Sean Murray as Jack, a mechanic and garage owner in his fifties, who is the first character on stage – and opens the performance in the same way most good evenings begin, with a pint.

Dempsey manages to artfully convey … authentic warmth and compassion

The set is a cosy pub interior, set in rural Ireland. The setting gives this play feels reassuringly ordinary feel, and the entire premise of the play is Jack and his two fellow middle aged local friends and the pub owner Brendan joking, gossiping, sharing stories and smoking cigarettes. Its charming everyday, the irrelevance of which pub or which town this is happening in, lay a comfortingly familiar groundwork for some surprisingly chilling storytelling.

Finbar, played by Louis Dempsey, is the the youngest of the group and a lovably pompous local businessman, brings a newcomer to the pub for a drink. Valerie, played by Natalie Radmall-Quirke, is a single woman in her thirties who has arrived from Dublin to rent a house in the local area. Valerie’s arrival marks a real shaking up of these men’s routine. Brendan panics when Valerie asks for a glass of wine, eventually retrieving  some wine of questionable quality from the back room, before pouring it into a half pint glass and smelling it to ensure its suitability. She is so clearly out of place, and Radmall-Quirke manages to convey this through nuanced cues of discomfort with admirable skill.

Jack (Sean Murray), Brendan (Sam O’Mahony) and Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke)

Jack, Brendan and their friend Jim all believe Finbar have licentious intentions, and scorn him when Valerie briefly absents herself for his carrying on with a younger woman whilst married. Finbar insists he is simply showing her the local area, and is troubled by Valerie’s motivations to move out to the countryside alone, thinking she has been through some tragedy or trauma. Dempsey manages to artfully convey Finbar’s brief lapse from straight minded businessman, and show authentic warmth and compassion when imploring his friends to show Valerie some kindness and bring her into the community.

Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke)

The characters in turn share stories, some branching into folklore and the supernatural, and some tell the stories of a less metaphysical kind of ghost: loneliness, loss and absence is the truly menacing demon who appears in their stories. Jim nurses his sick mother, and the others are unconvinced of how he will cope when she passes away. Finbar’s wife is never mentioned by name, and Jack lives alone and talks of a former lover from whom he found himself estranged.  When Valerie shares her own story which lead to her leaving Dublin, the dynamic shifts and the raucous laughter and light-hearted jest ceases, and there is a really lovely moment of solemn gravity and universal solidarity.

Jack (Sean Murray)

The great thing about The Weir is that practically nothing happens. Not unlike a ‘bottle episode’ in sitcoms, this play is about real people and how they relate to one another. A heartwarming tale of friendship in the face of isolation, The Weir is a must-see and is at Bristol Old Vic until 14th October. Tickets available here.
★★★★


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