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The Weir

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The roar of the Celtic Tiger is a long way behind us now, but the regulars in Conor McPherson's Sligo pub, who first turned up in 1997 at the Royal Court in exile in the West End (during the refurbishment) have hardly changed a jot.

Josie Rourke's keenly edged revival is a little less sombre than Ian Rickson's meticulously downbeat original, the characters less mired in the haunting, lonely atmosphere of their own conversation.

The tone is set from the minute that magnificent, craggy, great big jowly sack of a man, Brian Cox, zips up his trousers, rubs the soles of his feet on the welcome mat and calls up the first of many drinks in a long evening (though the running time is only one hour, 40 minutes) of banter and memorial yarn-spinning.

Cox is Jack the garage-owner, sometimes helped out by Ardal O'Hanlon's quietly grinning mother's boy, Jim, a furry, burr-like creature whose beard seems to be made of the same stuff as his big woolly jumper.

Their host is resigned barman Brendan, whom Peter McDonald plays with a lesser degree of consoling steadiness than did Brendan Coyle; he's more of a stay-at-home victim, just as the man who nearly got away, Risteárd Cooper's hotelier-cum-property dealer, Finbar, is the deluded wide boy riding the ripple of economic regeneration.

Brian Cox, Peter McDonald, Ardal O'Hanlon & Risteard Cooper in The Weir (photo: Helen Warner)

It's Finbar's arrival with his latest client, the Dublin fugitive Valerie, that prompts the unspooling of tales of the supernatural, of hallucinations and trembling of the "Luigi" board, the knocking on the door and the woman on the stairs, the gaping grave. Dervla Kirwan, a striking figure of innate grace and physical stateliness, is less troubled and obviously haggard than you might expect, but she's screening her sorrow in a nervous laugh and an anxiety to humour her strange new companions.

It's this peculiar Irish balancing act between breath-taking oddity and numbing normality that makes The Weir - a modern classic, that's for sure - so utterly absorbing and beguiling.

For this is an enclosed world, beautifully rendered by Rourke and her cast on Tom Scutt's brown and battered old saloon bar, defined by its own secret myths and stories, impervious to "the perverts out in the city" or the summer influx of German tourists ("Where are they from?" "Do they speak Danish, is it?") but suddenly possessed by the memory of an act of kindness in a  cheese and ham sandwich, or an everyday accident in a life-changing tragedy.


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