If you look at someone’s face for long enough, everything in your peripheral vision becomes blurred. As Valerie (Orla Fitzgerald) sits on a stool in a crumbly old pub and tells the men she’s just met about the day her daughter died, everything around her is a haze. Kevin Treacy’s lighting design fades to put the focus on the grieving mother, the rest of the set melting away. It’s just her and her pain. Despite her heavy words, she seems somehow lighter for telling her story.
Grief is not something you can shut away. Rachel O’Riordan’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir demonstrates that. It makes you realise the baggage every individual carries. It also makes you see what a relief it is to put it all down for a second. What’s that they say about a problem shared?
I thought The Weir was a play about ghost stories. Turns out it’s more a tale of the real ghosts in our pasts. It’s about the value of sharing stories and the importance of having someone believe your words. When Valerie looks at Brendan (Patrick Moy) and he nods at her, relief washes over. He’s on her side. It’s the subtleties like this that make this production.
The cast of five settle comfortably into the space, the room dotted with old furniture and a bar that hardly goes five minutes without seeing another round of drinks ordered. Designer Kenny Miller has done well to transfer the grimy old pub to the Tobacco Factory, with the little touches such as the sun-stained wall behind photographs demonstrating the level of care taken in the creation process. But I can imagine it worked better in the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, as the open space of the Tobacco Factory doesn’t quite lend itself to the claustrophobic feel of being tucked in a cosy pub on a cold, stormy night.
The Weir is an incredibly human play, but this is both its best and most difficult element. Though McPherson’s text is dotted with dark stories, nothing in O’Riordan’s production grips the audience’s attention as much as Valerie’s monologue. It feels like the rest of the play is waiting for the moment she opens up.
The naturalistic production makes it easy for focus to drift, the heavy Irish accents almost acting as a lullaby. Though the gently jovial tone at the start of the production dissolves into more serious conversation, it rarely feels like there is a lot at stake. The lack of action around the dim stage perfectly suggests it’s the end of the day’s events, which in turn has a slightly soporific effect. I wish I could say I was rapt by the reality of the words, but it was too easy for some of the sleepiness to catch, like a contagious yawn spreading from the stage. But perhaps that’s necessary, perhaps it’s the normality and the lack of pressure to impress or entertain, which in turn allows for the deeper revelations from each character to occur. And for that one moment of Valerie telling her story, I’d sit through a hundred drowsy evenings in that pub.
The Weir is on until 5th November 2016 at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. Click here for more details.