Adele Thomas proves that Conor McPherson's classic text still has the power to unnerve in this production of The Weir by the English Touring Theatre.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner.
The English Touring Theatre have revived Conor McPherson's 1997 classic The Weir, which performed at King's Theatre Edinburgh this week as part of their UK tour.
One of the most striking elements of The Weir was the set, designed by Madeleine Girling. The set comprised of a three-walled structure placed within the main stage, giving the audience a peek inside the interior of the titular pub in which the action occurs. The hemmed in, smoke-stained walls created a homely yet claustrophobic atmosphere, giving the actors little room to move around yet also focussing the audience's attention in on the bar around which the actors cluster.
A flash of strobe and the action begins. The Weir is the kind of pub familiar to anyone from a rural area – the kind where regulars assemble day after day to chatter and drink the grim, windy night away. Things shift a little, however, with the arrival of Valerie, just moved here from Dublin.
Endless pints are downed and banter flies between the old patrons of the pub and an out-of-place Valerie, sensitively played by Natalie Radmall-Quirke. Talk turns to the spiritual; each patron takes their turn to tell a ghostly story.
It is a play with very little on-stage action, which necessarily relies on the actor's ability to hold audience attention through their storytelling. All actors managed this with success, though some Irish accents and dialect took a little while to adjust to.
The climax of the play comes with Valerie's chilling story of her lost child, more haunting than any of the previous ghost stories. Adele Thomas's direction captures the poignancy of the moment, though the importance of the speech is at times undercut by Radmall-Quirke's failure to project.
Lee Curran's lighting design is hugely successful in establishing the eery atmosphere and must be praised. Whilst each actor performed their monologue, the lighting changed almost imperceptibly from the warm pub atmosphere to bathing the stage in a blue light which echoed the tragic ending of Valerie's child. The subtle yet overall dramatic lighting changes and slow lighting changes created an overall dramatic visual landscape.
The only aspect which undermines the overall atmosphere is the use of background music – sometimes a 'haunting' fiddle, sometimes eery chimes in the wind. These additions were unnecessary and even slightly amateur; they undercut the sincerity of the monologues, which were performed mainly as naturalistic.
Overall, this production of The Weir captured the claustrophobic but ultimately good-natured atmosphere of a small-town pub. The men's supernatural stories are endlessly revised and retold – until they meet a woman with a new and chilling story to tell. The Weir is a play about the things that might have been, and the things you should have done; Thomas's direction plays well on the subtle sadness of the ending, and Valerie's monologue leaves an impact long after the blue light has faded.