As we move away from the long winter nights, there’s just enough time for some last tales in the dark in the form of Conor McPherson’s 1997 play The Weir. Action unfolds over the course of a single evening in an Irish pub. One barman and three locals welcome a newcomer with what else but an evening of spirits: both liquid and ethereal. Slowly, through a production which shows its strength in cast and narrative, we find that there is little concern to be found in these ghouls but instead, in what they conceal.
Folklore makes for ideal storytelling, but no fairytale is simply about fae folk. The lore discussed in The Weir shifts sublimely from faeries to ghouls and finally into what these creatures mysteriously represent: life. Through the characters Jack and Valerie the true anxieties we hide behind shadows are teased out. The loneliness and guilt communicated by Sean Murray and Natalie Radmall-Quirke are unbearably human. The closing moments of the production, as the rising sun banishes the spectres, help us realise that regrets do not hide in shadow.
These are all locals with which most of us are familiar. No performance is over-the-top, nor any awkwardly shy. The production is easily at its most powerful when our cast are uncomfortable – when Finbar (Louis Dempsey) drops his proud guard, or Jim (John O’Dowd) cowers by the warm irradiating light of the fire. Director Adele Thomas’s decision to include more comedy further heightens the tension – as fear and laughter often go hand in hand.
The masterful touch of The Weir is deceiving the audience into questioning their reality is. Do we actually hear the soft hums of an old telephone? Or was that someone in the audience again? The lighting shifts at a glacial pace, enough to catch the eye but not swiftly enough to announce its tonal shift. With such a modest, yet cosy set, our focus is squarely within the cast; our eyes do not wander through distraction.
As the hearth needs stoked and fed, so does The Weir. To describe it as a slow burner would still be too quick, but it’s all worth it. What is placed into it, through solid performances, atmospheric lighting and tight directing pays off. We tell ghost stories for a variety of reasons: to educate, to scare… but sometimes we tell them to communicate the pains we cannot put into words. The Weir is a series of painful tales, wrapped in folklore and delivered with subtlety, passion and a hint of whimsy where needed.