Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Reviewed – 14th September 2017
“deftly humanised with well measured humour, outrage and bad language”
I have to say that on venturing out in the drizzle for this theatre visit I was anticipating something heavy and oh-so intellectual that might have proven too much for a cold Thursday evening. I mean, there is a pretty serious weight of expectation when you sit down to offerings from the man the New York Times dubbed as “possibly the finest playwright of his generation”, yet I’m happy to say that The Weir by Conor McPherson did not drag or disappoint in any way.
The single act play, set in a small bar in rural Ireland is exactly the kind of shabbily charming production that complements regional theatres so well, with gloriously stereotypical characters gently unfolding over the course of an hour or so in ways one wouldn’t have predicted from the outset. You could boil the whole thing down in summary as an entertaining five-way conversation in the pub, punctuated with stark leaps between comfortable silliness and sombre soul bearing. I found myself in giggles and shivers in equal measure.
It is an entirely captivating story about stories within stories, deftly humanised with well measured humour, outrage and bad language. If you have ever found yourself spending a lot of time either side of the bar in a small town pub then the scene and the players will feel distinctly familiar, even if the subject matter doesn’t.
The cast all do wonderfully, though the show is somewhat stolen by Sean Murray’s portrayal of cantankerous old bastard Jack, tearing constant strips off flashy Finbar, played with an affable, awkward edge by Louis Dempsey. The old goat and the young(er) pretender trade blows and showboat throughout the eighty odd minutes of action, nicely supported by the contrasting knitwear clad background shufflers, Jim and Brendan. John O’Dowd is appealing and understated as Jim and Sam O’Mahony plays a marvellous turn as the long suffering landlord Brendan who shrugs his way through the evening pouring the drinks and correcting the balance of comfort and grumpiness in his patrons. He is as much a part of the scenery as the bar set (Madeleine Girling) itself; the cosy host providing warmth but remaining a smidge too rugged to be completely cuddly. Natalie Radmall-Quirke is equally fun, strong and melancholy as new girl and gossip point, Valerie, a role that I imagine could become dull very easily with too much leaning towards classic girly sympathy bids which she has avoided quite elegantly.
The triumph of both the writing and performance of The Weir is in the contradiction; going from fairies and weddings, to horror and tragedy, without ever rocking the boat enough to realise how completely the mood is shifting until you are laughing out loud when you thought you were about to have a quiet cry. Although it is far from a simple, the base element of a need to connect with those around us and turn out our own tales is so universal that the appeal should extend to all. It is a really wonderful and easy play and I don’t hesitate to give it full marks.
Reviewed by Jenna Barton
Photography by Marc Brenner
is at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 16th September