The Weir

Joan Beal

THE NEW THEATRE: In an isolated Irish country pub, four middle-aged men spin yarns to impress a young woman visiting from Dublin in Conor McPherson’s gently evocative drama.
The Weir
Conor McPherson’s The Weir is set in County Sligo, on the west coast of Ireland; rugged, rural countryside, dotted with old stone cottages unchanged since they were built decades ago.

The fierce winds that batter the small pub in which the play unfolds are nothing out of the ordinary for three lonely bachelors: Jack (Peter McAllum), Jim (Barry French) and Brendan (Lynden Jones), who find solace in each other’s company, a steady flow of pints and small glasses of the good stuff.

A fourth man joins them: Finbar (Patrick Connolly), who left the area to seek his fortune in town. He has returned to show the sights to Valerie (Amanda Stephens Lee), a newcomer to the area who is looking for some peace and quiet, and will be taking up residence nearby.

Finbar, a married man with kids, still manages to flit around Valerie like an excited boy, winding up Jack about his efforts at dressing up and flashing his money around while joking about the modest takings in Brendan’s pub. Once the initial excitement of introducing Valerie dies down, tales of the area’s history are told; notably tales about the supernatural and unexplained. Finbar and Jim both tell stories of events that happened directly to them, to an audience that seemed to literally hold their breath waiting for the next chilling revelation. Realising that they may be scaring their guest, they stop and apologise, but it’s Valerie who wishes to continue; she has her own chilling story to tell, one which resonates with the program’s quote from W.B. Yates’ The Stolen Child and which leaves the other seasoned story-tellers dumfounded:

‘For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.'

The whole cast speaks with a convincing accent; something which is either done well or best left alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Connelly is a native of the area, so good was his effort. McPherson’s characters are complex, each one holding on to their own sadness or regret, and at the same time delivering hilarious lines or physical humour; particularly McAllum’s quiet frustration at the beer pump and Jones’ pouring out his first ever glass of wine.

The set design is excellent; Jessica Sinclair pub comes complete with ceiling beams, whitewashed walls and a convincing fake fireplace, effectively lit by Brenda Hartley, who also employs subtle light changes as the stories unfold. Marissa Dale-Johnson’s costumes are everyday clothes, but are spot on in filling out their wearers’ characters – from Jim’s jumper, probably knitted by his mother, to Finbar’s town suit and to Jack’s under-used and unnecessary brown suit which is most likely worn for Valerie’s benefit.

The different stories of the night are all sad, and ultimately, we are left with a collection of stories that go nowhere – this may be McPherson’s intention and not having a neat conclusion or connection does amplify the sadness carried by each person, but running at one and three-quarter hours, made the ending seem somewhat anti-climatic.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

The Weir
Director: Alice Livingstone
Assistant Director: Ruth Horsfall
Set Designer: Jessica Sinclair Martin
Lighting Designer: Brenda Hartley
Cast: Barry French, Peter McAllum, Lynden Jones, Patrick Connelly and Amanda Stephens Lee

The New Theatre, Newtown
March 7 – 31

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Joan Beal is a keen theatregoer. She works in book publishing and lives in Sydney with her husband and two cats.