Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
14 September 2017
While many theatres launch their autumn season with a brash, comedic, attention grabbing production, the Mercury, in association with English Touring Theatre, have opted for Connor McPherson’s reflective, character led study of Irish storytelling, The Weir. In a local pub, five characters assemble, and the arrival of the mysterious Valerie, who has moved into the area from Dublin, prompts suspicions and a telling of ghost stories. Yet it is her tragic story that tops the lot, revealing a play of majestic melancholy, shot through with a sharp humour that releases the tension effectively.
Director Adele Thomas sets the pace perfectly. The Weir is a sort of theatrical slow TV, events are allowed to develop at their own pace, the search for and then opening of a bottle of white wine becomes a major experience that you know will be spoken of for years to come. And she has bought together an excellent cast who inhabit the pub, (a fine design by Madeleine Girling that places it in a wind torn limbo, the decor from decades before), so realistically. This is an actor’s play, each being given a character study, monologues and wonderful writing from McPherson.
Sean Murray is excellent as the cantankerous old soak Jack, a highly critical observer of his fellow natives, yet revealing his sadness at missing his chance for love and remaining resolutely single and alone. There’s the flashy Finbar, a great performance by Louis Dempsey, conveying clearly that Finbar considers himself a cut above his neighbours in his nice suit, a married man showing Valerie the sights. John O’Dowd is Jim, caring for his sick mother, finding solace in company, his ghost story perhaps the most disturbing of all, beautifully told. And Natalie Radmall-Quirke brilliantly captures the outsider Valerie, who then devastates the men, and the audience, with her tragic tale of loss. Best of all is the excellent Sam O’Mahony as bar tender Brendan, who doesn’t get to have a story to tell as he not loved or lost yet. In listening to Jack’s warning’s to not end up like him, this is a study in quiet despair at the passing of time. If all this sounds far too melancholic, the characters and the relationships are so natural the humour and teasing between them lightens the play considerably.
I have some quibbles. The lighting is somewhat eccentric, less effective at trying to show the passing of days, much more powerful in its simplicity at creating atmosphere for the stories. And there is a trend these days for directors to underscore a play with haunting soundscapes and music. Here a totally unnecessary violin alerts us that what we are hearing is important- stop it, it’s not necessary, we know it is. The actors and the writer are enough. That aside, this production will make you want to pour a Guinness, get close to the fire, and listen to these people tell their stories.