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The Weir

Critics' choice
Helen Warner

Conor McPherson’s breakthrough 1997 play is such a perfect – and perfectly self-contained – piece of art that perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s taken 15 years for anyone to attempt a major London revival. Because frankly, what are you going to do with it?

Its rural Irish pub setting, beautifully ramshackle characters and carefully constructed ebb and flow of its dialogue are not up for negotiation, and commercially speaking there’s not much chance of topping the original Royal Court production’s huge transatlantic success.

Still, it’s far too good not to be revived, and I’m very glad Donmar boss Josie Rourke was the one to do it: she’s always had a way with an Irish play, and her 250-seat theatre is the perfect venue for this intimate evening of stories in the dark.

Tom Scutt’s pub set is immaculately detailed – as near as I could tell you could actually pour yourself a pint (of, er, something) from the working Harp tap. But it’s Rourke’s cast who conjure up the Irish night so exquisitely: the wonderful Brian Cox leads them as good-natured old grump Jack, with excellent accompaniment from Ardal O’Hanlon’s socially inept mechanic Jim, Peter McDonald’s level-headed publican Brendan, a brilliantly gauche Risteárd Cooper as local magnate Finbar and Dervla Kirwan as Valerie, a mysterious Dubliner who has just moved into the village.

Individually they’re all lonely drifters; together they’re a strangely potent little community, as raucously funny pub banter gradually drifts into the elegant recounting of ghost stories that increase in potency with each teller, until Valerie’s unexpected contribution stuns them all.

As with much of McPherson’s work, magical realism nibbles enticingly at the edges of ‘The Weir’, but the climax of the evening isn’t anything supernatural, but rather Jack’s haunting story – beautifully delivered by Cox – of how he came to be alone, a living ghost of sorts.

After the grandiose misfire of McPherson’s last play ‘The Veil’, Rourke’s production is a reminder of him at his intimate, storytelling best – it whets the appetite for his new play ‘The Night Alive’, which follows ‘The Weir’ into the Donmar next month. Andrzej Lukowski

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Francis
1 of 1 found helpful

I thoroughly enjoyed this play, although I feel it would be more appreciated by those who know Ireland and the Irish. There were moments of real drama and some great acting, so the one hour 50 minutes (with no interval) flew by. I had a cheap seat (late booking) but the view of the stage was fine, and there was no problem with the acoustics. A lovely theatre, and a very enjoyable evening.

John Gill

I came with high expectations of this production and left well satisfied that they had indeed been met . A rivetting evening with a wonderful cast (especialy Brian Cox ) with all showng complete mastery of timing , and command of both spoken and body language .I like the rest of the audience was immersed into the pub's environment and "the plot " for ninety minutes and when time was called and the pub's ligths went out reluctantly had to leave after a stellar production .Encore

Suzie Marwood

Weir? Schmeir. The Emperor's new suit was on view tonight. For the price of a ticket, you could get yourself a Ryanair flight to Dublin and within an hour or so be more entertained than you will be by this tedious evening of cliche. Brian Cox's accent wandered all over like a drunk in Temple Bar at 3am, and the most riveting thing for me was to find out that the clock behind the bar was actually working and I could watch precious moments of my life ebb away until I could leap from my seat and go home. Two lukewarm curtain calls would seem to indicate that I was not alone in my indifference to this bit of malarky that was so boring that malarky is probably a bit flattering.