"Everyone likes stories, don't they?"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 18/10/17

Mid-point of its tour through England, ‘The Weir’ arrives this week at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre on the University campus, sadly only until this Saturday 21st October 2017. After huge financial uncertainties in recent years, the modishly renovated Northcott has resumed its proper place as the leading venue in the South-West, hosting full-scale presentations of theatrical entertainment in every magnificent style.

‘The Weir’ is good-old-fashioned story-filled drama, marrying tradition with timeless narrative. Human nature creates mysteries and fearful prospects to enthral or uplift our spirits. Pub-culture of conversation and yarn-spinning is nowadays threatened with obliteration under technological modes of remote connections and so much entertainment and alcohol being available in peoples' own homes. The world-wide-web, skype and all things Internet, does not lend atmosphere to personal relationships.

By contrast, relaxed socializing among good companions encourages matey groups to engage in entertaining 'craic.' The Weir is set in a cosy snug-bar around a glowing fire, where everyone chips in personal stories, contributing variety to the company’s mood and shared experiences. Conor McPherson captures that time-honoured tradition, setting his play in the last stronghold of folk-lore and superstition, a remote bar in rural Ireland, although even there, tentacles of modernity threaten to intrude.

The playwright introduces his audiences to three typical men, all getting older, all stuck in the bog of rural isolation.
Brendan, is endearingly portrayed by Sam O’Mahony as he bemoans to regular customer, Jack, how being shackled to his sister, the co-owner of his bar, has landed him with the responsibility of managing the business but with little reward for his efforts or freedom to seek a life more lively.

Jack is brilliantly created by Sean Murray, playing up every nuance of temperament that can show in a man who moderately drinks to forget his life’s only regret; a memory brought back into bemused consciousness during the events of this evening.

Life-long camaraderie between Jack and a late-comer, Jim is under-stated in Jim’s lack of self-confidence. Adopting an almost apologetic reserve, John O’Dowd conveys a quietly positive sense of patient suffering. Jim is a man who expects little from life but willingly drives people about to whatever places they need to go, in his rattling old van - an essential character in a rural community, ‘tho’ rarely appreciated properly. Yet Jim's story is as relevant as any told this night.

This placid scene is disrupted when the anticipated Louis Dempsey arrives, in a flash light suit, playing Finbar, the successful ex-exile returned. He has bought up several village properties and now rents them out, so forfeiting the ’ open-hearted welcome on his return to the fold. He adds to the distrust of ‘his ain folk’ by escorting into the bar, a recent newcomer to the village, about whom the three men have been speculating.

This uplifting personality is Valerie, attractively played by Natalie Radmall-Quirke with subtlety and sophisticated counterpoint to the local men's earthy nature. Valerie is from Dublin and rents a cottage from Finbar. Like the men, she too has a story to tell that cuts across their folksy superstitious world and drastically alters the mood in the bar.

‘The Weir’ was/is Conor McPherson’s first successful script, written in his twenties and premiered at London’s Royal Court in 1997. The setting and intertwining of the characters is almost claustrophobic; a small space inhabited by several tightly-involved persons. While entirely individual in style and language, McPherson seems descended from a noble line of Irish writers, Bryan Friel and Sean O’Casey, included. Accolades from notable critics and awarding organisations across the world have elevated him to the ‘A’ list among playwrights using the English language.

Director, Adele Thomas and her creative designers have achieved remarkable successes in every aspect of presentation, enhancing the experience for playgoers who appreciate the subtlety of unsensational realism and harmoniously blended sound effects, music and visual charm.

On tour until late November, this is a play that engages eyes, ears and thoughts. Seek out ‘The Weir’ wherever you can.

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