I’ve long wanted to see The Weir and the Gaiety Theatre’s new production finally gave me the opportunity. It’s fair to say that, excellent though it was, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
When one is making one’s lists of speculative fiction writers it’s easy to overlook the playwrights, if they work little in other written forms and rightly or wrongly, The Weir had popped up on my radar in this context.
The play does contain four supernatural stories, told by four of the five protagonists. There’s a family tragedy story, a messing about with the ouija board story, a burial story and a story of the faeries. Three of them were ho-hum run of the mill sort of stuff, at least for this aficionado of the form. The fourth – the one told by handyman Jim – was pretty stunning.
To call The Weir a work of supernatural fiction, however, is perhaps over-egging the pudding. Equally, it’s unfair to lump it in with those ensemble pub and club tall stories – Buchan’s Runagates, or Dunsany’s Jorkens, for example – which are an end to themselves, for the tales, as told in The Weir have a more transcendent effect on the narrative.
This narrative has two strands. The first is a very conventional one for Irish drama- that of the sad, lonely lives of rural men; the first ‘act’ (the play runs for nearly two hours without a break), cursing aside, could have been written by Synge, Friel or anyone in between. The third ‘act’ too, is straight out of this mould, as the young blank cypher, the barman Brendan, is completely unable to respond to Jack’s tale of lost love, thereby likely condemning himself to a similarly empty fate.
The second strand belongs to the long second ‘act’ which contains the supernatural stories. Blow-in Valerie is fleeing family tragedy and it is through hearing the others’ supernatural tales, told as if true, that she begins to believe in the truth of her own tale; they are thus the catalyst for her healing process to begin.
As I mentioned above, Jim’s tale is the standout by a long way. The playwright knows this as evidenced by the prolonged, gobsmacked silence on stage when Jim finishes. It would be the perfect place to break the play for an interval too – let the audience stew on what they’ve just heard for twenty minutes or so. Overall, though the production was strong, entertaining and the time just flew by.