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Sheena Lambert on Conor McPherson’s The Weir

Writing.ie | Stage | Stage & Screen Reviews

By Sheena Lambert

Sheena Lambert recently went to see Conor McPherson’s The Weir at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin – produced by Decadent Theatre Company and Verdant Productions. Here are her thoughts . . .

Having heard Conor McPherson in conversation some years ago at the Dalkey Book Festival, and having subsequently bought and read his play The Weir, I was looking forward to seeing it come alive onstage. I had enjoyed the play very much in book format. The pages of the script evoke the womb-like warmth and safety of the small, rural bar, where the wind howls outside and the turf burns on the stove, giving a perfect setting for the heart-rending ghost stories that are told within which make up the basis of the play. Reading the words on the page, I imagined the cast getting progressively drunker as they down the impressively long list of pints of Harp, bottles of stout (the Guinness tap is broken), whiskies and brandies, not to mention the best part of a bottle of warm white wine that Brendan, the publican, has to comically root out from his own kitchen when his only lady customer of the day requests it. In its reading, the characters of The Weir take the legs offered to them by the drink and run with them, leading them to the zenith of the play where their new-found familiarity and the same units of alcohol allow the telling of the strangest story of all, that told by Valerie.

All of that energy jumps off the pages of the play-script, but seemed crushingly absent from this production on stage. Indeed the sense that the play hadn’t been allowed to shine was palpable in the stalls, where an initially eager audience was left feeling a tad flat. The Weir is no comedy, but does have some very funny lines, which were grasped onto by the same audience like life-rings in a sea of unexpected deflation. Where the quieter monologues should have created an eerie, around -the-campfire type feeling in the auditorium, they instead felt over-long and undramatic. Other than Finbar (who, rightly or wrongly felt a little like a caricature of Roddy Doyle’s Mr. Burgess), the male characters on-stage were almost indistinguishable, something I had not noticed in the play’s reading. But perhaps I was wrong? Having enjoyed many a McDonagh play in the past number of years where the characters come alive both on the page and the stage, was I too easy on McPherson in my original reading of The Weir?

It could be argued that in theatre, the words on the page are just words on the page. The delivery is king. Reading The Weir, my mind was able to conjure the nuanced delivery of the lines, the spooky, over-telling of the ghost stories, the crescendo of drama in line with the imbibing of the alcohol. But little of this played out on the Gaiety stage (which in of itself was magnificent – note perfect in its detail). And this lack of dramatisation jarred most at the play’s climax – Valerie’s story. Valerie is a stranger, newly arrived in the area, the only woman in the bar. Reading the play, we can imagine how the howling wind, the chilling stories, and the many drinks might collude to loosen her tongue, leading her to tell her shocking truth to these strangers, her new neighbours, undoubtedly regretting her honesty in the morning. But here, Valerie’s story was told with such la-di-dah casualness, it dropped like a stone onto the Gaiety boards, leaving the audience to assume one of two things – that the writing was misguided (- the errors of man writing woman from his own perspective?), or alternatively that the stage delivery/direction was wanting.

For my part, I believe it was the latter. And I would therefore, rather than encouraging you to see the play this time around, encourage you to buy the play. Read the play. Stage it in your mind’s eye, and enjoy in your own time the atmosphere of the little local, the smell of the turf stove, the sound of the howling wind as it breathes life into Conor McPherson’s words, and blows them off the page, into your heart.

(c) Sheena Lambert

Sheena Lambert is from Dublin, Ireland, where she worked as a engineer on landfill sites before leaving the glamour of waste management behind to focus on writing novels, plays and newspaper articles.

Her writing has been shortlisted in a number of prestigious UK competitions.

Her second novel, The Lake, is published by HarperCollins Killer Reads. Find out more at https://sheenalambertauthor.com/

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