“Tell me a ghost story.” It only takes five small words to set the scene in this rehearsal of ‘The Weir’- a story of small- town Irish friends crowding round in a pub and weaving stories to pass the evening away, telling tales of ghosts that eventually lead to uncomfortable home truths. Indeed, the magic of this play seems to be its brevity, and the simplicity: the whole play takes place in one long pub scene, no props but a bar is needed, and the characters saunter in wearing non-descript, dull clothing. The beautiful lure of the play is in the words, with unsettling stories being told and memories being pulled back out of the dark- indeed, the simplicity of the set only seems to accentuate these exchanges.
The director Chris Page’s decision to place the play on a thrust stage in the Pilch is unusual, but effective- “it’s a great space”, the producer Claudia Graham tells me, “as it involves the audience, bringing them into the bar”. This is when I am told that the play is BYOB- “meaning the audience will be more drunk by the end than the actors”, laughs the Stas Butler (Finbar), as he nurses his (compulsory) second pint of disgusting non-alcoholic beer. The whole play seems to exude an air of relaxation: the naturalistic nature of the plot, with banter and stories being thrown back and forth, makes me feel like I’ve just wandered into a conversation in the JCR bar. There’s even some genuinely funny jokes- something that can’t be said for every ostensibly ‘funny’ play on the student drama scene. And the drink is useful in more ways than one- every time a character slips up on lines, the others point at their pints and nod at each other meaningfully. “It’s like a real pub atmosphere”, Leo Danzak (Jim) says. “I love the banter, the friendliness and community spirit.” And he’s right- even watching one scene I catch a sense of the mix of emotions, the chilling stories mixed with the affable chatter that really seemed to bring the bar to life.
The single scene nature of the play, like one long take in a film, not only gives The Weir a wonderfully naturalistic, approachable air, like you have simply wandered into a pub and bumped into a conversation, but also invests you in the stories. The continuous conversation, the organic growth of the characters, even the almost-flawless Irish accents (the actors mention that they’ve started using Irish idioms in tutorials) gives the play a warm, lived in, familiar feel- as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to join their table and hear listen to their stories. I for one will be opening a bottle of beer and pulling up a chair on the opening night- I recommend you do to.
The Weir is on at The Michael Pilch Studio, 2nd week: 4- 7th May