Conor McPhearson’s Laurence Olivier Award winning play of 1999 highlights his skill as a story teller, as he weaves a tale of characters who, at first glance have little in common. The one act play takes place in a rural pub, the centre of much social life in Ireland, even today.
The Weir is the pub in question, and as we took our seats I was struck by the realism of the set. I spent many an hour in pubs just like it in my youth in Ireland. As Jack (Sean Murray) enters to discover that the draught Guinness is off, he reluctantly pours himself a bottle of Guinness. Despite being a far inferior product, it is still poured with a reverence befitting its name.
This tale is presented at a gentle pace. We are gradually introduced to ‘the lads’, each a confirmed bachelor. Though in Ireland a single male, regardless of age, is still eligible marrying material. Brendan (Sam O’Mahony), the youngest, tends his inherited bar, to which his home is but an extension, while Jim (John O’Dowd) is the melancholy character whose lot in life is to care for ‘the mammy’.
They have heard rumours, and indeed have seen for themselves, that their friend Finbar (Louis Dempsey) has been showing a young woman the sights of their rural backwater. He has even rented her a house , and him a happily married man. Well, leastways a married man.
And when we meet Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirle) she is a breath of fresh air in this quiet backwater of a pub, where there are three choices of drink: The Guinness, The Harp or a small one. There is an awkward moment when she asks for a white wine, the embarrassment compounded by the lack of wine glasses.
The tales that follow are a spellbinding miscellany of the supernatural, and of the mind playing games on those who want to, but don’t quite believe. With one exception, each of the characters gets to deliver a soliloquy, none more poignantly than John O’Dowd’s tale of Jim’s experiences in the graveyard and the implications of that meeting.
But it is Natalie Radmall-Quirle’s telling of Valerie’s tale that focuses the mind. For hers is a very true story, of a real and excruciatingly personal nature.
The language used may seem coarse to an English ear. However, in Ireland swearing does not carry with it the invective or hate that it does in other languages. The expression “A Jaysus, sure isn’t all just cod and bollocks?” is far more a macho expression used to hide from exploring reality, than it is an expletive.
This is a tale of lonely people who grasp that there are things in life that cannot be explained but that need to be respected, if not understood. It is a story too of chances missed, perhaps forever. Conor McPherson’s characters are real and believably presented by a cast completely immersed in the story.