The Weir (West End)

Josie Rourke’s acclaimed revival of Conor McPherson’s modern classic transfers to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre

Telling tales: Dervla Kirwan (Valerie) and Brian Cox (Jack) in The Weir at Wyndham's
Telling tales: Dervla Kirwan (Valerie) and Brian Cox (Jack) in The Weir at Wyndham's
© Francis Loney

Josie Rourke's Donmar Warehouse revival of this haunting, haunted 1997 play by Conor McPherson moves smoothly into the West End, the cast intact from last April’s premiere, just as McPherson’s new play, The Night Alive, also seen at the Donmar last year, opens in triumph in New York.

The Night Alive was an underrated highlight of last year, but The Weir‘s reputation remains steady, popular all over the world. Why does it endure? McPherson’s fellow playwright Billy Roche suggests, in the programme, that it does so because it has at its heart the beautiful mystery we all long to embrace: that of time and timelessness, of a little lost holy family yearning for home…

The Sligo bar is an echo chamber for this yearning, and the play a kind of induction for the Dublin newcomer, Valerie, whose own mystical ghost story of loss and grief stamps her card. What I particularly like about Dervla Kirwan‘s performance is its utter stillness and simplicity, its naturalness and nerviness, too.

The regulars are still at it: Brian Cox‘s big saggy garage-owner, carving his memories in thin air, is the most wonderful yarn-spinner, starting on a verbal odyssey with a casual interruption, while Ardal O'Hanlon‘s woolly-clad Jim is like a great shaggy sheep, grinning his life away in the corner between drinks.

The liturgy of pub talk is punctuated with the bibulous ritual of pints, glasses (ie, half-pints) and small ones (whiskeys). When Valerie asks for a glass of wine it’s as though she’s requested an audience with the pope. Barman Brendan – Peter McDonald has really settled into this role now – disappears to find a bottle in the house and fills her tall glass to the brim.

Valerie arrives with the local boyo-made-good, the hotelier Finbar, whom the cream-suited Risteárd Cooper presents as an agreeably phoney swaggerer. He’s showing Valerie around; I now see there may be more to her off-stage encounter with Brendan in search of the ladies, and the play ends with another layer of ambiguity.

The interleaving of old and new Irelands has been a constant theme in Irish playwriting, and McPherson, more than Martin McDonagh, say, is mining a rich seam furrowed also by Tom Murphy and Brian Friel; but it’s an activity all of his own, too, and it’s the startling detail and exact sense of atmosphere and topography that makes The Weir such an enthralling and deeply satisfying play.

Come on our hosted WhatsOnStage Outing to The Weir on 12 February 2014 including a top-price ticket, a FREE programme and access to our post-show Q&A – all for £40.00 (normally £55.00 for ticket alone). Members save £1.00 if they book before 30 January 2014.