Audiences will be completely wooed by this clever little play, The Weir, by Irish writer Colin McPherson, as its eeriness and humanity stays with you long after curtain down.
I saw The Weir when it first appeared on the London stage back in 1997 and the excitement surrounding it back then was electric. This bold play about ghost stories, the nature of communication or the lack thereof and unfulfilled dreams, was stunningly naturalistic and starkly Irish.
This MTC production covers all bases well and the actors and production crew have succeeded in bringing all its charm to Melbourne for this 2015 revival.
A warm, cosy naturalistic set was beautifully mounted; from the packets of Walker potato chips neatly ordered on the bar shelf to the random scratches on the wooden floor, the set was exquisite and alive with detail. Costume and set designer, Dale Ferguson, has excelled in bringing to life the typical Irish pub where regulars have their own seats and the frosted glass windows evoke a certain kind of tawdriness. A lovely effect was when a car pulled up outside the pub upstage. The upstage flat had the panel of frosted glass. Lights to denote the headlights of a car shone through the glass as the sound effect of a car engine purred and the car pulled in. It was these little ideas that made for such an entertaining evening.
We are taken to a world far flung where the wind howls and the people drink and talk. And yes, talk they do. We are given perfect examples of the craft of spinning a yarn or two over a pint or two. But it is not the words that are interesting in this play; it’s what lies beyond the writing that really engages us and gets our imaginations going.
Locals meet up in their pub one stormy evening and all are doing their level best to make welcome and impress the new woman in town Valerie (Nadine Garner). All the men, Jack (Peter Kowitz), Brendan (Ian Meadows), Jim (Robert Menzies) and Finbar Mack (Greg Stone) know each other well and try to outdo each other with by delivering their best party piece one after the other. They each share a story, which on the surface are spooky tales concerning the supernatural, but, as McPherson states in the program, it’s not the words so much that are interesting; it is the feelings they can evoke within us that are.
The cast certainly evokes feeling as they deliver their monologues. The actors are skilled and the audience were fully engaged with their long stories. Garner, especially, displayed beautiful pacing, just the right injection of emotion and her quivering facial expressions were awkward and, at same time, wonderful to watch. Because of Valerie’s story, they are all drawn somewhat closer and Brendan (Meadows) and Valerie are like Romeo and Juliet, gravitating together in some sort of metaphysical way.
Meadows exudes so much charm as he works behind the bar; he has the requisite twinkle in his Irish eyes as his character, Brendan, relaxes more and more into his evening shift as barman and owner of the place.
The direction by Sam Strong leaves no stone unturned in creating real Irish scenes. The movement of all the characters on the set is carefully choreographed. The dimming of the stage wash as an actor told their story was a feature of the London production. Perhaps more lighting changes could have occurred in this one so as to increase the mood changes and evoke more of a sense of the supernatural. All the clever stage business with smoking and drinking is well executed.
The play is about the power of words and how people come together by simply sharing them. There are no smart phones or earplugs in sight. The delight is being still and committing to active listening for the 90 minute duration. This play is for lovers of pubs, stories and Ireland.
Photo credit: Pam Kleeman and Jeff Busby.