20 years since The Weir moved audiences at The Royal Court Theatre in 1997, the Olivier award-winning production is a fine example of storytelling as a group of Irish locals meet in a pub and share their stories.
Set in the depth of the country, the locals are intrigued by a Dublin woman who has just moved to the area alone. That evening, she is brought to the pub by one of the locals and despite initial hesitation, the stories open a dialogue connecting this group of people together. It’s mesmerising to watch the each of them engage and delve into each other’s lives.
Brendan (Sam O’Mahony) is the youngest of the group and the owner of the bar, he endlessly pours drinks for the locals as he listens to their stories, speaking up sporadically. As one pint turns into five, the characters become more agitated, but they loosen up as they cross deeper themes of loneliness and regret. There is a mixture of talkers and listeners in the group, which gives the dialogue space to feel more genuine. John O’Dowd’s portrayal of the painfully shy Jim is tender and Sean Murray plays Jack, one of the older townsman who has a facade of confidence until we discover his immense loneliness in his final monologue.
Louis Dempsey plays Finbar who appears to be the leader of the group. Mocked for getting a job in the city, his confidence drives a lot of the conversation. He brings Valerie, the mysterious Dublin woman to the pub who appears nervous, yet keen to make a good impression. Natalie Radmall-Quirke excellently captures the character of Valerie and her natural approach makes her confession so much more real. As the night draws in and the honesty of the stories get darker, Valerie opens up and as an audience we find ourselves gripped onto every word. We discover the reason Valerie has arrived in the country and Natalie’s performance during this story is poignant.
It’s comforting to watch real human connection on stage in this modern society where that would never happen. With most people’s heads in their phone, the art of human conversation appears truly lost. There are awkward moments, pauses and miscommunication but it’s real and that is what makes this play so entirely consuming. Natalie’s performance, shadowed by pain and grief, is exceptional, and the way the curiosity about her builds such an intimate conversation is remarkable.
The staging is simple yet intricately crafted to create a real Irish setting. The pub is traditional, old and full of character and Madeleine Girling’s set paired with Lee Curran’s lighting design enhances the storytelling with an eery ambience.
The Weir manages to successfully combine clever wit with focused storytelling in a stripped back, thoughtful production that is real, relatable and utterly touching. It’s an absorbing performance that proves the simplicity of storytelling is the core of what makes theatre so compelling.
On at the Lowry until the 27th of January, tickets can be found here.