Ghosts of the past abound in new production of The Weir
By Barry Lord
The Weir instantly reminded me of the lyrical hook from ’80s American sitcom Cheers because “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
But just a few minutes into Conor McPherson’s celebrated story about isolation and ghosts of the past convinced me that we couldn’t be further from Sam Malone’s Boston hostelry.
That’s not to say that should you choose to attend, you are in for a dour evening at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, for this is a show full of humour and pathos as well as agonising melancholy.
We open in a humdrum rural Irish pub where Jack (Gary Lydon) Jim (Frankie McCafferty) and barman Brendan (Patrick Ryan) wile away an afternoon waiting for the arrival of Finbar (Garrett Keogh) the only man in town to have made something of his life.
When Finbar finally appears, he is accompanied by Valerie (Janet Moran) the woman renting the big old house with a spooky history.
The regulars here know all about the ghostly apparitions associated with the property and like incorrigible schoolboys, they struggle to resist sharing their tales with the new occupant.
But during the course of their storytelling, they end up revealing more about themselves and their often tragic and misspent lives than they ever intended.
It is easy to see the appeal of McPherson’s play. It’s a celebration of the pub storyteller that resides in every Irish town.
The lonely, drinking man who knows everything about that ancient building or long abandoned property down the road and needs little encouragement to tell all.
In fact at times The Weir is like a long, sometimes rambling pub conversation, full of unexpected detours and revelations. That is part of its charm.
Despite focusing only on five characters, director Andrew Flynn creates a tangible sense of a larger community both within and out with the walls of the pub.
He is well served by Owen McCarthaigh’s detailed and tightly drawn set design.
McPherson chooses his location very carefully and understands its importance. Given the secrets revealed by many of the characters, you may wonder why they choose to frequent a place where their faces are so well known and not go to another watering hole where they can drink in relative peace and anonymity.
But that is missing the point. The characters here need this pub. It is their only form of comfort and indeed therapy. Without it, they could be swallowed up by the despair which only friendship and camaraderie keep at bay.
The cast are all in fine form, with McCafferty in eye-catching form as the inherently good natured assistant mechanic beaten down by life and stooped over the bar. Janet Moran too does a fine turn as Valerie, the mystery woman hiding a broken heart.
At the centre of the play is Lydon’s Jack, a man full of outward bluster but riddled with resentment about the choices he made in life.
Indeed the theme of the production could be summed up by the Eagles, who once sang ‘So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains that we never even know we have the key.’
It’s a sentiment that the characters in The Weir learn too late in life. The show runs from February 20 to March 4 at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin.