The Weir review – Conor McPherson's black stuff still chills

The Lowry, Salford
Adele Thomas’s revival of McPherson’s early play reveals the horror of loneliness to be on a par with fear of the undead

Just over 20 years on from its Royal Court debut, Conor McPherson’s haunting drama has been resurrected once more, this time for a co-production by English Touring Theatre and Colchester’s Mercury. In a remote pub in rural Ireland, the locals avoid the solitude of their homes by clinging to each other’s stories, as Adele Thomas’s revival reveals the horror of loneliness to be on a par with fear of the undead.

Pouring wine into a pint glass for an unfamiliar guest, the local men awkwardly adjust to new arrival Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke). Small talk shifts to tales of local legends, fairies and men who stalk graves at night. Louis Dempsey is excellent as the overbearing Finbar, resented for moving to Dublin to make his fortune. He worries the group are scaring their guest, but she encourages the supernatural chatter.

The stories grow darker with drink, Richard Hammarton’s sound design underlying the tales with melancholy strings. Lee Curran’s lighting washes the tea-stained set in green as Valerie becomes the last to open up and Radmall-Quirke bottles her emotion, allowing just enough room for our empathy to seep in.

Though the performances are earnest, the evening stretches. The production longs for relief from Thomas’s unrelenting sincerity. The conflict between Jack (Sean Murray) and Finbar feels strained and the script’s lighter moments crave emphasis. The Weir is strongest when the characters feel most uncomfortable. Timid Jim (John O’Dowd) looks truly spooked and Finbar drops his confident facade as they tell of their uneasy encounters. Under the macho bluster each character reveals a deep-set loneliness, with McPherson unveiling a thorough understanding of longing.

This is a slow and quiet production, dark around the edges. At the end of the night, Valerie sits with belligerent Jack and unassuming barman Brendan (Sam O’Mahony). “There’s something about your company,” Jack says to Valerie as he opens up. There’s a comfort to her. After spending time with this gang of melancholy storytellers, it’s not hard to feel the same way.


Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

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