Conor McPherson's wonderful play first opened at the Royal Court in 1997 and soon garnered unanimous critical and popular acclaim. What seems a simple, straightforward story on first acquaintance proves admirably deceptive. This is multi-faceted, subtly layered drama of the highest calibre that is as funny as it is poignant, as touching as it is witty.
A motley group of Irish locals gather in a remote rural bar and while away an evening telling ghost stories to impress a young woman visiting the area. What begins as merely a collection of superstitious tales slowly becomes something deeper and undeniably universal, reaching its crux in the personal revelation that Valerie - the visitor - eventually discloses. It is this emotional touchstone that indelibly transforms the evening.
Like the best storytellers, McPherson both entertains and inspires with his gifted grasp of emotional nuance and keen perception, which inform every scene. The play's name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word "wer" which means an enclosure, and it's an appropriate moniker, for the world we view here is intimate and self-sufficient.
The Weir is so well-written that it could scarcely fail to score a success on this, its nationwide tour, but sadly the present cast cannot recreate the magic of the original production. So much of what is cherishable here depends heavily on an appreciation of the play's understated profundity, its subtle inflections that, in the hands of first-rate actors, is quite simply a joy to behold, like seeing a beautiful canvas gently unwrapped from layers of protective insulation. While perfectly reasonable as an ensemble, only Karl Johnson's endearing Jack really engages your attention wholeheartedly, and it takes him quite a while to find his rhythm in the role. Far too often, you're left very aware of watching a performance - a perfectly competent one but without any of the consummate sparkle that distinguished the play on its first appearance.
For anyone wanting to catch a work recently voted one of the 50 most significant dramas to emerge this century, The Weir, nonetheless, remains an unmissable opportunity. Just remember to buy the playscript afterwards so you can treasure all the richness of the text.
- Amanda Hodges (reviewed at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre)
To read a review of the previous West End production, click here.