Artistic director Michael Colgan exits stage Gate after 33 years
25/06/2016
Adjudicator: Paul Fowler
02/07/2016

The Weir, Galway

The Weir remains Conor McPherson’s most admired play and it’s easy to see why. Set in a rural Irish pub on an evening when the regulars entertain a newcomer with a series of chilling ghost stories, the play trades on an oral storytelling tradition that is deeply ingrained in Irish DNA.

Buoyed by this tradition, if the play is done well, then the audience should come to feel like they are sitting in the pub themselves with the actors onstage. In Decadent Theatre Company’s absorbing new production, that is exactly the feeling the audience gets once the stories kick into gear.

The production gets the setting and mood perfectly right. Owen MacCarthaigh has designed some visually daring sets for Decadent over the years but on this occasion his deceptively ‘straightforward’ pub interior is vital. Avoiding clichéd gothic elements (eg. stonework, arches, and thick wooden beams) the pub’s simple, humdrum decor serves to amplify the eerie tales that unfold there.

Indeed, it is precisely the humdrum naturalism of the interior that makes the sudden lurch into the supernatural seem surprising, unnerving, and ‘real’. (The sound design, by contrast, is a little less effective).

The other vital element is performance. Director Andrew Flynn coaxes wonderful turns from the five actors here. Striking up a lovely naturalistic presence onstage, they deliver McPherson’s ghost stories with aplomb.

Meanwhile, the actors’ use of posture and manner tell another story. Crouched on his barstool, Frankie McCafferty’s Jim is a quiet, palpably defeated specimen of middle-aged manhood, yet his eyes dart up intermittently to reveal the keen embers of a life inside.

Gary Lydon’s twitchy, imposing depiction of the resentful, edgy Jack also embodies a story in itself. All of the performances are like this. Perfectly measured in their use of body, gesture, and expression, they provide the bedrock for a show of charming warmth, disarming sadness and bracing immediacy.

Until June 25; then the Everyman Cork, June 27-July 2, the Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny, July 7-9, and the Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire, July 12-30

Padraic Killeen, The Irish Examiner, Saturday, June 25, 2016

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