“In Irish heritage, in folklore and in stories of the faeries, I think there is something going on that’s deeper than just the stories and yarns”
The quote above from Conor McPherson is included in the programme of ShermanTheatre’s production of his play The Weir directed by Sherman’s artistic director, Rachel Riordan. McPherson’s words here get to the heart of what is at stake in this play. In ancient Celtic folklore the “faeries” McPherson speaks of are creatures that wreak havoc on human lives; a perfect metaphor for what the stories themselves do to the characters in The Weir.
The play begins in most rural of Irish pubs, a scene instantly recognisable if you have ever stumbled into a tavern in Clare or Galway, in the west of Ireland on a cold Winter’s evening – where you don’t know if the offer to buy you a drink is a threat or a kindness –a currency of power in any case. The play begins with Jack (Simon Wolfe) and then Brendan (Patrick Moy), the publican, arguing over the broken Guinness tap and Jack has to resort to drinking bottles – the shame of it.
They are then joined by Jim (Richard Clements) – this is when the gossip about the new ‘woman’ in town begins. Their friend a local businessman Finbar has been giving Valerie, the ‘woman’ from Dublin, a tour of the village where she has just rented a house. Eventually, the tour reaches Brendan’s pub and Finbar (Steven Elliot) introduces Valerie (Orla Fitzgerald) to the now very well behaved Jack, Jim and Brendan. After initial introductions and drinks – the boys start urging Jack to spin a yarn. What follows is a series of stories involving apparitions and spirits, given in turn by Jack, Finbar and Jim. And then the hammer blow of the play comes as Valerie’s turn comes to tell her own tragic story – and the reasons she has left Dublin for the quietude of this locale becomes unequivocal.
In 1999 The Weir won an Olivier Award for best new play after being originally produced at the Royal Court before its transfer to the West End. Riordan’s production shows exactly why this accolade was given. In Riordan’s version, exactly the right amount of time is given for the wonderful text to do the work it needs. The comedic lines are delivered sharply to contrast the stark and awkward silences, which act as metaphor of the purgatorial space between the mortal and immortal souls in the stories they tell. As the atmosphere builds the actors masterfully, almost to musical precision, hold the tensions, at times only delivering lines when we could take no more of the silences. This made for excellent drama.
The cast were all wonderful, playing both the ordinary whilst telling the extraordinary. It is this fusion of ‘traditional’ oral storytelling and theatrical tension that give this production its powerful result. Orla Fitzgerald’s measured approach to the tragic tale she tells, in one McPherson’s best monologues, makes for painful and gripping listening – she delivered it perfectly. Elliot and Clements too gauge the atmosphere just right telling their stories skilfully and Patrick Moy’s Brendan as the main catalyst for the humour in the play punctuates the tragic brilliantly. It is Simon Wolfe as Jack, however, who proves the master storyteller. His wit and timing are impeccable.
This is a fantastic all round production – you may laugh and you may cry – but I challenge you not to be in some way touched by the beauty of this production.
Riordan and her team have done an excellent job here.
Runs until October 22nd