The Weir at the New Theatre in Newtown is a quaint, lyrical little play which uses the spoken word and the silence in between to weave its black magic and leave the audience spellbound.
We get a good idea of the play’s theme from the meaning of its title, a weir being a boundary on a river that can function as a dam. The weir prevents flooding and allows the flow of water to be regulated.
Just as the weir is a sort of crossroads and can alter the course of nature, the play’s protagonists tell their stories to try to bridge the gap between the present and the afterlife and draw themselves together with their shared humanity. Though there are rivalries and distance between each of the five characters, we get a real sense of the power of the spoken word to light up dark nights and fight off loneliness.
Directed by Alice Livingstone, this version is a loyal interpretation of Conor McPherson’s modern Irish classic, which was first performed in 1997 to mass critical acclaim – winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play.
The set design is spot on and the tiny, two-tap (Guinness and Harp) tavern complete with dusty floors and GAA pictures on the walls evokes rural Ireland perfectly and creates a kind of campfire intimacy – ideal for the ghost stories that follow.
With only one Irish cast member, some of the accents are only vaguely Irish and the intonations are not always authentic. However, this will only be noticed by native speakers and is not fair criticism of an Australian production, acted brilliantly by a thoughtful, seasoned cast.
The action opens with small talk about tractors and the windy weather between the middle-aged barman Brendan and two of the older locals Jack and Jim, all single men looking for a pint and a fag and some company.
The gossip quickly turns to the subject of Finbar, an opportunistic local businessman who has sold a house to a glamorous Dublin dame named Valerie. When the pair arrives at the bar a few moments later, we begin to see glimpses of sexual interest and rivalry among the men, who we later learn have failed to build long-lasting, satisfactory relationships for themselves.
But they and the convivial, slightly lecherous Finbar – played with great energy and humour by Dublin-born Patrick Connolly, hardly have time to jostle for superiority before the play veers subtly into deeper waters, when a ghostly incident, which occurred at the house Valerie just bought, rears its head.
Each character in turn spins a story; tales that, as the evening wears on, become profound, eloquent and occasionally hilarious. Little mysteries evolve into eerie amazement and revelations of love, loss, and loneliness.
We feel we are being given a glimpse into the soul of an old, repressed Ireland as personified by these characters, and it’s a poignant experience.
The expertly crafted dialogue further evokes the chilling realisation that the paranormal does not always have a reasonable explanation and we are left to wonder whether it was really a wrong number, or was the spectral emerging from the shadows?