It is nearly twenty years since Conor McPherson’s ‘The Weir’ was first produced at London’s Royal Court Theatre, and in that time the Irish pub based drama has been performed across the world, appearing on Broadway, in Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles and, naturally, Dublin. It has become, as the Lyceum production’s programme proclaims, “a modern classic”. The apparent contradiction in that label – the somewhat uneasy pairing of classic and contemporary – is in fact an apt way to understand McPherson’s piece. ‘The Weir’ has a timeless quality, or, more accurately, conveys a sense of having momentarily fallen out of the modern world. The play presents the power of the past, and how it can invade and disturb the present.
Set entirely within a romantically rudimentary pub (the Guinness tap is broken, leaving only bottles, for which garage owner Jack is repeatedly mocked for drinking, and the only wine has been lingering in the house for over five years), the play presents a vision of rural isolation. The characters propping up publican Brendan’s bar are, like him, single men, for whom the pub promises more than a series of “small” drams of whisky; it breaks the loneliness of their situation and satisfies the deep human need for connection.
The play is entirely talk – a jumble of stories, all ghostly in nature, told by each character in turn. If that sounds formulaic or forced, it never strikes as such. The exactly accurate rhythms of Irish speech, the idioms, the competition between the men, and the pure acting talent on display create an entirely believable world. Gary Lydon, in his guise as shabby, but quick-witted Jack, is especially mesmerising. His final monologue, revealing how his character remains haunted by a long lost love, is beautifully poignant. In one line, the play’s themes of memory, personal tragedy and moving on are perfectly encapsulated: “there isn’t a morning I wake up and her name isn’t in the room”.
For a play first staged in 1997, two years after the debut of Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’, ‘The Weir’ is remarkably old-fashioned. Even with the contemporary costume, it could be easily mistaken for a modernised rendering of naturalist theatre. Within the walls of the isolated rural pub, the effects of new media and digitisation have no foothold; this is a play of pure storytelling. It is this quality that spurred Lyceum Artistic Director Mark Thomson to produce the play, highlighting how The Weir’s “faith in storytelling between human beings demonstrates eloquently that sharing our experiences, both actual and emotional, can be compelling and even necessary.” It is a drama that, despite its supernatural tales, emphasises a deeply felt humanity.
(originally for The Skinny)