Nuffield Theatre, Suthampton
It's the way they tell them, as at least one popular comedian reminds us to this day. And in the case of Conor McPherson's The Weir, revived in Russ Tunney's production at The Nuffield, Southampton, the telling of five stories by Irish folk is crucial.
What else is there to keep us in a rustic bar miles out of Sligo, poorly stocked, badly maintained, with only a handful of close-knit locals to entertain us - until "the Germans" come, whenever that will be.
To be honest, the way they tell them here is not particularly well. That is, with the exception of Denise McCormack's stranger, Valerie, and Terry Jermyn's Jack. The latter conjures shades of Barry Fitzgerald whose films even he is surely much too young to have seen. None of this company, for example, can have been about when black and white classics such as Ten Little Indians or Going My Way were doing the rounds. And as for Micheál MacLiammór !
Neither is this reminiscing entirely irrelevant. Reminiscence is the heart of The Weir, from the first moment Jack, like the postman in The Scarlet Claw, struggles into the bar from the gale. And if there is weakness in this production it lies in the speaking which, in this case, means Irish story telling. Fitzgerald, his contemporaries and predecessors, could certainly tell them. To put it bluntly: they had voices for this sort of thing.
Sitting three rows from the Nuffield stage, it ought to be possible to hang on every word. At the end of this performance, however, it was some relief to find young ladies in a school party nearby had not heard it all! It's one thing for actors to learn the knack of speaking for screen and TV; another thing for them to overlook the art of projection on the live stage.
Moreover, the conspiratorial pace of Tunney's production presupposes the dialogue is finding our ears. The performance is gripping without half the words; imagine, as sadly we must, how absorbing it might be if we could hear it all as though through the old Home Service Saturday Night Theatre..
Becky Hawkins's nicely ramshackle set, too, lacks the intimacy needed by five characters drawn together on a bitter night to raise spirits both alcoholic and ghostly. Though with pumps and toilets already failing, one half expects Mark Dymock's lamps to be next!
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole