The Weir already feels like a modern classic, as it is welcomed into its much anticipated West End transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre. With an all-star cast and its successful run at the Donmar Warehouse, naturally, expectations are high. My first experience of the play certainly did not disappoint.
The homely, naturalistic setting of a country pub in the windy wilds of rural Ireland, designed by Tom Scutt, is impressive in its detail, precision and scale. Though one quickly relaxes and feels at home, protected as we are from the ever-present cutting winds from outside, the dark outside stone wall above the set looms over us, never quite allowing us to relax.
With the entrance of the all-round accomplished cast, the story begins. This sparse, somewhat closed community, is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a beautiful stranger, Valerie (played by Dervla Kirwan). This is one of the many hallmarks that this play bears of a classic ghost story: the remote location, the howling wind, an enigmatic stranger sweeping into a half-deserted town. I’m not convinced this is a ghost story, but if it is, it is an uncommonly subtle and complex one. This is a play that takes its time, trusting the quality of its writing, direction and performers.
The cantankerous, yet not charmless Jack (Brian Cox), and the wonderfully understated and classically masculine barman Brendan (Peter McDonald), form a perfect double-act, attempting to hide their trepidation at meeting the stranger. With the gauche Jim (Ardal O’Hanlon), and the smug, country-boy-done-good Finbar (Risteárd Cooper), added to the mix, Valerie has an enviable welcome party of not-quite perfect gentlemen.
Where in a classic story one might expect to find archetype, here there is understatement, and complexity of character and relationships, that is allowed to build up naturally over time. Masterfully directed by Josie Rourke, raucous humour is found in the smallest of moments, signalled with utter clarity by the whole cast working as one. The story and the conversation meander realistically, so that when the topic does turn ghostly, it never feels forced. It is a tribute to the writing talents of Conor McPherson that the conversation is always naturally paced, yet full of interest, and that the plot nevertheless barrels relentlessly on. This is more than just a ghost story, or more accurately, ghost stories. It is a multi-layered story of subtlety and tenderness, touching upon such diverse themes as loss and heartache, loneliness, companionship, love and kindness, not forgetting, of course, death, and what lies beyond.
The Weir is playing until the 19 April. For more information and tickets, see the Weir website.