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Review: Tales of the extraordinary in The Weir

08181_show_landscape_01The idea of sitting around the fire on a stormy night telling stories is nothing new. Setting the tale-telling in a pub in rural Ireland adds little to its uniqueness but there is something in the blend of tragi-comedy and spooky subject matter of the yarns in Conor McPherson The Weir that is utterly engaging and moving.

For all the tales of ghosts and fairies The Weir is about as human as you can get; loneliness, love, loss and a sense of belonging are at the heart of the stories and the play. Four friends are pricked into recollecting their rural community's more colourful characters and past by the arrival of Valerie (Dervla Kirwan), a woman who has recently moved from Dublin.

Jack (Brian Cox), Brendan (Peter McDonald) Jim (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Finbar (Risteard Cooper)  subconsciously compete for Valerie's attention unused to having a woman's company on a night of drinking. Their stories are at times chilling, fantastical, funny and moving, revealing as much about the storytellers as the people in the stories.

The performances are beautifully judged, with looks, gestures and silent reactions as illuminating as the stories themselves. Their evening in the pub reaches a peak when Valerie tells her own tragic story that is equally steeped in the supernatural.

When The Weir was first performed in 1997 it won an Olivier and Critics Circle award. It is a play of gentle genius, that captures the essence of  Irish culture steeped in folklore and modern-day reality. It is a play that proves that a good story, simply, but well told is still as affecting and effective.

The Weir is in preview and runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 8 June. You can read Poly's review over on her blog.

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