Lyric Theatre, Belfast
After the relative success of his film The Actors, the Lyric Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's 1997 play The Weir, shows him in a more contemplative mood.
Set solely in a pub in Co. Leitrim, the play questions the place of myth and storytelling in a sceptical modern world. As the characters drift into stoical barman Brendan's pub, they seem to fall subconsciously into set roles: Jack the town jester, Jim the archetypal rural bachelor, Finbar the flashy businessman and Valerie the vaguely mysterious outsider.
Yet while the men attempt to impress Valerie with local folklore, their stories inadvertently reveal their individual struggles and confusion. Consequently, as Valerie becomes increasingly absorbed in their stories, she begins to engage in a public confessional about the death of her child. Each story challenges the characters, and indeed the audience, to question their views of reality, even to the point of querying their own sanity.
The Weir is an exploration of the boundaries between the sexes, the public and the personal and between life and death. Fiona Watt's fine set emphasises the distinction between the masculine world of a rural bar and Valerie's disturbing feminine presence. Similarly, Tina McHugh's subtle lighting contrasts the gloomy pub with the comforting glow of Brendan's fireplace.
Paula McFetridge transforms Valerie into the play's central expressive force, compelling the other characters to gravitate towards her. Miche Doherty and David Heap's persuasive portrayals of Jim and Finbar heighten the atmosphere of the bar until it becomes an emotional crucible. James Doran's Brendan is equally convincing in an under-written part. Yet it is Lalor Roddy's finely nuanced portrayal of Jack which best highlights McPherson's multi-layered writing.
The Weir begins as a straightforward depiction of pub banter but slowly develops into something akin to Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the supernatural. It is a rare production which can stimulate the intellect whilst engaging the emotions. The Weir manages to enthral and move the audience in a manner which reaches far beyond the narrow confines of its setting.
Reviewer: Claire Simpson