There is a certain type of absolute silence that only comes with good storytelling – it is the silence of held breath, of absolute concentration, a silence so intense and focused you forget it’s even there – until the storyteller snaps his fingers, everyone finally relaxes, and you realise that the entire room had for those few minutes been brought together by one voice. This silence was achieved brilliantly by the Pilch’s new play, The Weir, on its opening night- as character after character stood to share their tales, the audience were drawn in to a storytelling session of ghosts and hauntings that stayed with me long after I’d left the theatre.
The Weir, set in a backwater Irish pub, is run in one continuous scene, with pub chat and banter unfolding in real time – meaning the audience is drawn into their jokes, their petty feuds, and their discussions. Although nothing excessively dramatic happens over the course of the play – as my neighbour grumbled, “it just doesn’t go anywhere!” – I feel this is the beauty of The Weir. It’s simply a group of old friends in a bar, reminiscing and telling ghost stories. And this makes every minute detail a focused point of drama – the rift that has developed between Finbar (Stas Butler) and the others creates a between-the-lines tension that is brilliantly brought out by the actors. The quietly stoic, reserved atmosphere of Jim (Leo Danczak) balances out the loud and boisterous nature of Brendan (Aaron Skates) and the more down-to-earth nature of the barman Jack (Christian Amos, who did a fantastic job of grounding the play. This feeling of genuine involvement put forward by the actors makes every emotion feel more intense: the ghost stories are more unnerving and spooky, the jokes and the laughs (of which there are plenty) are funnier: in short, the audience are invited to relax with the actors, to the extent that they can bring their own booze to the play, and we feel like we are sitting in the pub with them.
There are a few problems with The Weir, if I had to nit-pick and search for them – the Irish accents sometimes wavered slightly, though I don’t know if I could keep one up for that long, and the immediate dimming of the lighting precluding every story made its arrival rather obvious and overly accentuated. But this did not detract from the overall atmosphere: the director Chris Page and producer Claudia Graham have created a wonderful pub setting that at once gives a convincing rural aesthetic and draws the characters closer together. The soft Dublin accent of Valerie (played by Annie Hayter) was somewhat hard to hear on the back row, though that only made you listen all the more intently. The minor flaws do not detract from the overall success of The Weir- at once an intimate and absorbing play, it sweeps you into a rural, Irish world of folk tales, friends, feuds and family secrets. It is well worth a visit – be sure to bring some alcohol, sit back and be swept away to their stories.
The Weir is on at the Michael Pilch Studio, 4 – 7th May at 7.30pm.