sun 23/06/2024

The Weir, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

The Weir, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Weir, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Superb new production of Conor McPherson's play focuses on the unbreakable bonds of community

Loss, regret and enduring friendship: Darragh Kelly, Frank McCusker and Gary Lydon in the Edinburgh Lyceum production of The WeirDrew Farrell

Since its unveiling at London’s Royal Court in 1997, Conor McPherson’s The Weir has become something of a modern classic, notching up dozens of productions worldwide and even winning inclusion in the National Theatre’s list of the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century. It’s also a deceptively simple, unassuming offering – on the face of it, not much even seems to happen.

There are no theatrical pyrotechnics, just a few spooky stories told by locals to an intriguing newcomer in a rural Irish pub. So there’s a weight of expectation on any new staging, and also a curiosity as to what new insights a fresh director will bring to the play.

For director Amanda Gaughan, whose emotive new production opens as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, it’s clearly a case of remaining truthful and sincere to the play’s locale and events, but also of digging deep into its themes of community, family and tradition.

The WeirAnd in doing so, she brilliantly highlights the sheer craft of McPherson’s writing. There are plenty of laughs in her production, but despite the wonderfully naturalistic, supple flow of the dialogue, it’s never simply played for comedy. Instead, she makes the most of McPherson’s astonishing blend of the prosaic and the poetic, sometimes allowing words to tumble over each other, sometimes testing the audience with long moments of silence and reflection.

It’s quite an achievement. And Gaughan is gifted with a superb ensemble, each of her quintet of actors sharply defining their contrasting characters. Best of all is Gary Lydon, softly spoken (often quite literally) as middle-aged mechanic Jack who has never quite summoned the courage to quit village life, finding a deep sadness behind the character’s quips and biting rejoinders. Frank McCusker is brash but vulnerable as his polar opposite Finbar, well-to-do hotelier in the nearby town, with barely suppressed but touchingly desperate designs on his new tenant Valerie, the pub’s visiting attraction. Darragh Kelly hasn’t much to say as the quiet, lonely, constantly hunched Jim, but delivers his observations with devastating honesty, and Brian Gleeson (pictured above) has less to work with as young pub owner Brendan, but serves as a compassionate, calming presence nonetheless.

Lucianne McEvoy’s Valerie (pictured below) remains a rather mysterious, still presence – perhaps somewhat at sea in this very male environment – while her co-drinkers try to impress her with their tall tales of fairies, graveyard encounters and ghostly apparitions. And if the revelations of her own far more personal, and far more chilling, story come as less of a brutal shock than in some other productions, there’s nevertheless an emphasis here on Valerie’s vulnerable, human honesty, her account marking a sort of entry into the age-old all-male group.

The WeirThe semi-transparent back wall of Francis O’Connor's evocative set allows the audience glimpses of the drizzle and telephone wires behind the pub, and also highlights what seem to be only fragile boundaries between this den of stories and the rawness of the natural world outside. And Simon Wilkinson’s simple but effective lighting shifts almost imperceptibly to spotlight the storytellers as their tales unfold.

McPherson’s spooky stories have lost none of their unsettling power in Gaughan’s production, but they’re set firmly within a framework of missed opportunities, loss, struggles between new and old, and the seemingly unbreakable bonds of friendship and trust. It’s a production that touches on something truly profound in human community through the act of storytelling.

There are plenty of laughs in Gaughan's production, but it’s never simply played for comedy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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