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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  (L to R) Brian Cox, Peter McDonald, Ardal O'Hanlon and Risteard Cooper/ Ph: Helen Warner

Along with the West End transfer of the musical Once, this is the other show set inside an Irish pub. In fact, the banter and bonhomie created by Josie Rourke's production of Conor McPherson's modern classic – first seen at the Royal Court in 1997 – is so all-embracing, that sitting as I was with a pint of ale in my hand (although not one bought from the onstage bar as you can in Once) there were moments when I almost felt like joining in the conversation, or at least catching the eye of Brian Cox, whose Jack is the kind of genial company men seek in pubs like this.

It is Jack who is first to enter the pleasingly run-down boozer and then proprietarily pour himself a drink. Not that landlord Brendon (Peter MacDonald) minds. That's the kind of pub this County Leitrim drinking hole is. Every day, the same male faces drinking the same manly drinks. So you can see why the arrival of Valerie (Dervla Kirwan), a mysterious single woman about whom the regulars know little, except that she is moving into a nearby house where she shall live alone, would cause a stir.

When she arrives in the pub, the men, unused to a female company in the place, descend into a kind of conversational bravado during which Brendon, Jack, fiery Finbar (Ristárd Cooper) and even timid Jim (Ardal O'Hanlon, he of the Father Ted Irish sitcom) lob occasional brickbats at each other, each one intended to diminish one of the other men in Valerie's eyes. Out of these exchanges proper conversations emerge, including a series of ghost stories told by the men, each more disturbing than the last, until Valerie's contribution, which is the most disturbing of them all.

Few plays in the canon capture so completely the solitude of single men. And perhaps none are paced so exquisitely over real time – about two uninterrupted hours. This was the work that put McPherson on the map, and it will keep him there for as long as the map exists. But as a precursor to the Donmar's next show – McPherson's latest, The Night Alive, which the author himself directs and which features the same cast as The Weir – it couldn't raise expectations much further. We can only hope The Night Alive can live up to The Weir.


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