Decadent Theatre Company revive Conor McPherson’s all-conquering 1997 play of ghost stories in an isolated Leitrim pub to chilling and cathartic effect.
Jack (Gary Lydon) arrives into a small pub to find the tap for his chosen tipple isn’t working. So it goes with laidback barman Brendan (Patrick Ryan), who gives Jack a bottle instead. They are soon joined by the quiet but sharp Jim (Frankie McCafferty), and anxiously await the arrival of local tycoon Finbarr (Garrett Keogh), who is bringing Dublin blow-in Valerie (Janet Moran) to the bar. The men are concerned that Finbarr, a married man, is being unseemly in his attentions towards Valerie, and are equally concerned that he is turning them into dancing bears as a show of local colour for Valerie. But in the end the unseemliness comes from the concerned locals, as a number of local ghost stories pour forth, becoming progressively darker as the night draws in and the beers and short ones mount up.
Director Andrew Flynn’s handling of The Weir is riveting. You could hear a pin drop during the multiple monologues, and I cannot have been the only one to have a chill run down my spine while listening to the first two ghost stories told by Finbarr and Jack. An eerie atmosphere was greatly aided by the terrific whistling wind effects of Carl Kennedy’s sound design. Owen MacCarthaigh’s set design is a world away from the spectacular cut-aways he rendered for Decadent’s A Skull in Connemara, and in this simple naturalistic setting McPherson’s place in a continuum is apparent. The menace of possible drunken violence between the arrogant Finbarr and the prickly Jack is reminiscent of Tom Murphy, while everyone’s resentful mockery of Finbarr’s wealth recalls similar attitudes to the Shah in John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun.
Lydon brings Jack to cantankerous life, making his closing monologue particularly affecting, while Keogh is a world away from his put-upon turn in A Skull in Connemara with his infuriatingly patronising Finbarr (“Oh! Good girl”). This is the first time I’ve seen the play since Patrick Doyle parsed the script for me as a Mametian series of power-plays. Seen in that light the stories have suspicious similarities of theme, to say nothing of the escalation; Jack narrates a historic haunting, Finbarr narrates feeling a ghost behind him, Jim interacts directly with a paedophile’s ghost, and Valerie’s daughter returns via a ghostly phone call. The fact that Valerie unleashes her trumping story after a trip to the toilet supports the idea that she’s had enough of these strangers trying to unnerve her and has decided to beat them at their game.
Such cynicism is far removed from regarding the play as communal catharsis, but it says much for its deceptive depth that one can suspect Valerie and yet still sincerely feel Jack’s cri-de-couer.
The Weir continues its run at the Pavilion Theatre until the 30th of July.