A trip to Edinburgh for The Weir, Conor McPherson’s 1997 play about a group of Irish villagers, and a newly-arrived outsider, spending a long night of story-telling and reflection in an isolated pub.
The alcoholic theme of the play was foreshadowed at the start of the day. I hadn’t appreciated my weekend in Edinburgh coincided with an England – Scotland rugby match, so was surprised when half of my fellow passengers on the 7*am* service out of Kings Cross started to crack open the lager.
I survived the journey, met with old pal and friend of the Shakespeare challenge Helen R, and we took our seats at the Lyceum.
The entire action of The Weir takes place in the snug of a small pub in the Irish countryside. Its initial occupants are all local men, very familiar with one another and, in their blokey, piss-taking way, rather close. The arrival of a young woman, an outsider who has just purchased a house in the village, unsettles their long-established dynamic.
As the characters leap to impress Valerie with local legends, the play starts to develop into a something like a ghost story. The villagers tell tall tales of ley lines and the ‘little people’ who supposedly do their mystical work at night. They speak of occult apparitions and mysterious disappearances. The snug setting starts to feel less comfortable and more claustrophobic as the night sets in, reminiscent of the iconic scene in An American Werewolf in London.
After the interval, the writing takes a turn away from sprites and leprechauns as the characters open up, sharing their regrets and disappointments. As the story becomes more human, it becomes far more haunting than a supernatural tale could ever be.
Valerie (played by Lucianne McEvoy) explains why she has started a new life in the village, following an awful family tragedy for which she feels immense guilt. There is no need to invent imaginary horrors when our real lives can be hit by brutal and random tragedy.
Jack’s story of opportunities to find love that he has spurned through cowardice is less dramatic but no less tragic. The ruffled, regret-wracked Jack is played by Gary Lydon, who captured the desperation of a man who has let life pass him by.
My description so far has failed to mention the humour that runs throughout the drama. Even the darkest tails are dotted with ridiculous details and comic asides. Staging details, like the TV in the corner of the room showing Jack Charlton’s Republic team, also lend an air of lived-in reality.
We laughed throughout the play, but as the it ended, the tragic notes stuck with me.
The highlight of the challenge so far.
Go see The Weir if you can.
8 down – 93 to go.