I sat watching the five superlative actors bringing an Irish bar to life in Conor McPherson’s marvellous play, The Weir, last night thinking how lucky I was to be witnessing such a splendid feast of theatre. And that’s after having seen it before in early preview at The Donmar back in April last year.
One wondered if a transfer from the intimate space and thrust stage of The Donmar to a proscenium arch theatre would work as well. But it does and brilliantly. I sat side on to The Donmar stage and, although the whole experience was so lifelike I felt as if I was actually in the bar eavesdropping on the locals, there was a lot I missed. I was unable to see the whole gamut of facial expressions, character ticks and interaction. Whereas on Tuesday night I saw it all and it is an absolute delight from start to finish. Tighter, funnier and more gripping than I remembered and I truly didn’t want it to finish.
A lot of performances have passed since my first viewing and this shows. Brian Cox, Peter McDonald and Ardal O’Hanlon have relaxed into and become their characters even more (if that’s possible), finding it hard for me to believe that they don’t actually inhabit this bar (wonderfully realised by the Designer Tom Scutt) in rural Ireland most nights of the week. Risteard Cooper and Dervla Kirwan likewise aren’t acting, but being and their respective supernaturally themed stories, told with such depth and feeling, stayed with me long after I left the theatre. When Valerie quietly tells us her devastating story, you can hear a hundred pins drop and the silence from her companions afterwards speaks volumes. It deeply affects the four men, highlighting, despite their bravado and bluster, that they are capable of deep compassion. This particular night in their local has to some extent changed them all. By trying to upstage one another in impressing Valerie with their tales they have conveyed their insecurities, failings and loneliness. It is the brilliance of Conor McPherson’s writing that, despite illuminating everyone’s frailties and highlighting their sad existence, the humour is as rich as the pathos. What isn’t said is expressed in the pauses, sideways glances and brilliant interaction between them all. This is a master class in awkward pauses. So much is said when nothing is said at all. The movement on stage is unforced and natural, the bits of business perfectly in tune with each character. In truth the play and players is a masterpiece. Not much happens but what does offers us a window on the soul of Jack, Brendan, Jim, Finbar and Valerie.
In this production alone, Josie Rourke has proved that she is a worthy successor to Michael Grandage.
It is a must see. Don’t miss it.