Review: The Weir by Conor McPherson at the Donmar Warehouse

Brian Cox as Jack. Photo Helen Warner

Brian Cox as Jack. Photo Helen Warner

I went to Ireland for the first time in October 1999 and although I have gone back a few times since, that first trip was the most personal: crossing the country from Galway to Dublin (which sounds impressive until you realise it’s only a couple of hours by car), hanging in pubs with irish friends, walking down country roads in a drizzle so fine you couldn’t be sure it was real, it all fits perfectly with irish folklore, except it isn’t. I have neither the measure of the place or the talent to make it justice, but Conor McPherson’s The Weir makes sense of those evenings when a story at the pub starts as a lark but quickly hits the bone, changing people’s lives. And Josie Rourke’s production, simple as it is stunning, delicate as it is robust, is a triumph of intimacy and storytelling.

A rural irish pub on a spring evening, the regulars squabble, tell tales and try to impress the newcomer. Five stories are told and what starts as a bit of local colour quickly shifts to include painful intimate truths. Five people find and lose each other, strangers decide to stay, locals want to leave.

Brian Cox’s Jack has the bittersweet confidence of someone who knows the past but also the future. Charismatic, often bombastic, a natural leader, he is under no illusions, he ‘ll never have what he wants. Dervla Kirwan’s Valerie, full of warmth and grace, carries a huge emotional burden without melodrama and self pity. Ardal O’Hanlon laces Jim with a tender innocence, Peter McDonald’s Brendan is quiet, the least vocal of the bunch, but his unassuming presence has a strong beating heart. Risteárd Cooper’s Finbar, the local boy who went away and came back to strut his stuff, talks big and brags loudly but his swagger is undermined by the darkness of places he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

Tom Scutt’s design, all realistic detail, warm wood and solid tiles, is a strong inviting place where these stories, flights of fancy, little lies and big truths can live. By the end, we were all leaning closer, hanging on every word. Theatre doesn’t get much better than that.

For a second opinion, head over to revstan’s blog.

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