BLOG Jack Pugh

NWR Issue 112

The Weir

Jack Pugh saw The Weir, a joint production between Sherman Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres, on 11 October. Directed by Rachel O'Riordan, it is running from 25 October to 5 November at Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

The souls of the dead, when they are not hanging around funereal monuments and sepulchres, are haunting the souls of certain living persons, day and night. So says Derrida in Specters of Marx. It is this which characterises Conor McPherson’s ghostly, humane The Weir. Set in an Ireland of twenty years ago, in the fictional village of Carrick in County Sligo, the play examines the space between the living and the dead, the fine line between truth and fiction, and as director Rachel O’Riordan notes, the moving between the earthly and the supernatural.

It starts out innocently enough – four old friends meet in their local pub, ‘The Weir’. They’ve grown up together – country folk. One, Finbar, has brought along a guest – Valerie, who has just moved from Dublin. Strange, we think, but no one questions why. Alternately, they battle for her attention – Jim can help her get the house fixed up, and Brendan fetches a bottle of wine (‘a present’) from his house for her to drink, there being none behind the bar. It is made no secret that Jack is single. Finbar, though married, doesn’t shy away from complementing her at each turn.

Talk soon turns ghostly. Valerie, it seems, brings out a certain depth in these characters that we would perhaps not otherwise witness – people say things in the presence of strangers that wouldn’t otherwise come out. Everyone, almost, has a story to tell. The souls of the dead, in a certain way, come to visit the bar. We wonder if we in the audience might be them, haunting the space of the theatre. A black curtain conceals the back half of the theatre, making for a supremely intimate space. We are drawn in, to this bar on this night in the countryside in Ireland.

We’re spooked. Jack tells that classic ghost story – a disembodied knock at the door, shapes at the window. Finbar talks about a young girl who, after falling down a flight of stairs, begins to see a figure on those same stairs, and the voices of children outside her window. Jim is haunted by a figure who appears at his own grave. Between all these stories is silence, which both invites the ghostly and, we feel, forces the characters to reflect on their own loneliness, their past, their failures. For these stories, while ghostly, are fundamentally reflections on the past. Eventually, Valerie tells her own story. Her daughter died – ten years previous, young, a swimming accident. For weeks she barely got out of bed, paralysed by grief. One day, she received a phone call – her daughter, she’s sure of it. We’re not so sure, but it could be. We’re certainly open to the possibility…

Rachel O’Riordan has directed a masterly interpretation here. Perhaps most notable are the painful silences which linger just enough for something other to emerge. The pacing, too, is spot on – set in real time, we move as the characters move. Kevin Treacy has done some outstanding work on the lighting. The light creeps its way across the stage throughout the hour and forty minutes – flickering at points (reminding us of the ghostly, perhaps) but mainly just making its slow journey towards dark. As the play reminds us, ‘There’s no dark like a winter night in the country’.

Towards the end, Brendan, Jack and Valerie huddle around a fire, lit as the last light fades from the stage. Jack tells a story of long lost love – a girl from Dublin. A physical relationship, but there was more to it, Jack insists. At her marriage to another man, Jack tells us she looks straight through him, as though he were just another guest at the wedding. Like a ghost, perhaps. These friends make their way out the bar, the flame of the fire still flickering. We wonder: is it to ward off ghosts, or invite them in?

Jack Pugh is a Cardiff-based blogger and this summer carried out a work placement via Cardiff University at New Welsh Review.


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