ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH
Review by Mark Brown
They like a good Irish play at the Lyceum. This time last year they were staging a justifiably acclaimed production of Faith Healer by the late, great Brian Friel. They begin 2016 with a fine staging of The Weir, Conor McPherson’s highly original modern classic.
Ever since it premiered at the Royal Court in London in 1997 this strangely affecting piece has been insinuating its way into the minds and emotions of audiences. Set in a pub in the rural northwest of the Irish Republic, the play appears, at first, to be little more than four local men trying to impress Valerie, a young woman newly moved over from Dublin, with provincial ghost stories.
Nonetheless, McPherson’s narrative has an ace up its sleeve; and one which should not be revealed out of respect to those who do not yet know the play. Suffice it to say that the writing shows a keen and humane understanding of memory, grief and human psychology.
There is more to the success of the piece than its emotive shift in subject matter, however. As director Amanda Gaughan’s beautifully measured production attests, the writing, which is, by turns, gorgeously comic and unexpectedly poignant, has a tremendous sense of structure and rhythm.
A good production of The Weir, and this is one, carries one along, seemingly effortlessly, like a boat on calm waters. This requires actors who understand the shape and cadences of McPherson’s script.
Gaughan’s all-Irish cast have such a grasp on the play from beginning to end. Gary Lydon’s Jack, for example, exhibits an underlying decency in the rough-mannered car mechanic; even when he remarks, sarcastically, of well-to-do local hotelier Finbar that he could “peel a banana in his pocket”.
There are equally impressive performances from Darragh Kelly (as unassuming labourer Jim), Brian Gleeson (young bar owner Brendan), Frank McCusker (Finbar) and, crucially, Lucianne McEvoy (a powerfully sympathetic Valerie). The production is framed memorably by designer Francis O’Connor’s ingeniously, and subtly, transformative set, which shows us the rain swept exterior of the pub, before switching back to its ornately patterned walls.
This is a strong production with which to begin the second half of the Lyceum’s mainly superb 50th-anniversary season. Acclaimed playwright David Greig seems set to inherit a company in fine shape when takes over as artistic director at this famous playhouse later this year.
Until February 6. For further information, visit: lyceum.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 20, 2016
© Mark Brown