Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Weir

I was reluctant to see Conor Macpherson's The Weir in London, as I didn't see how anything could measure up to the radio version I'd heard with the original cast, including the wonderful Jim Norton as Jack. Some experiences are so strong one is afraid that any repeat will be disappointing. But two independent recommendations (thanks, Simon and Mara - neither of whom will read this) prevailed and I went to see the Donmar production, now transferred to Wyndham's at the heart of the West End. Seeing it unfold on stage I noticed further layers to this rich and mysterious work. There was more comedy in the theatre: some of the laughter seemed slightly willed, like the guffaws at Brian Cox (Jack) wiping his feet at the opening, but there was some terrific comic business that had to be seen: Brendan's crestfallen face when Valerie asks for wine, the subsequent pouring, the wonderful awkward tableau around the table, and the embarrassed reactions to Jim's tale to name a few golden moments. And what seemed pure pathos to the ear took on a lighter key on stage, such as Jim's lovely 'You're very nice' to Valerie, sad and sweet at the same time.

What an extraordinary play it is. There seems to be no plot and yet it has the trajectory of a perfect story arc, taking us through the shared telling of tales through pain to deeper understanding. The Weir finds in a country pub a perfect vehicle for the great human themes: loneliness, loss, companionship, memory and the imagination, displacement, all triggered by the arrival of an attractive young women among a group of men. The opening of a weir. Like Joyce's 'The Dead' the gregariousness is a foil to the shadows beyond. And the writing, too, is marvellous in its sure pacing, its perfect balancing of light and dark. I didn't quite get on stage the overwhelming pathos of Jack's 'sandwich' story, and perhaps the full power of Valerie's tale can only come over the first time you experience the play. Yet the cheer and warmth of the fire, the sharing of space, the signs of renewed life in Valerie (beautifully played by Dervla Kirwan) all came over beautifully. So the moral is, if you've seen it, now listen to it (some good soul has put it on YT), and if you've heard it, go and see a top-notch cast deliver one of the great plays of the last fifty years.