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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the ...

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Weir - Wheathampstead Dramatic Society

Wheathampstead Dramatic Society,
Memorial Hall
February 2016
‘A fine piece of ensemble playing.’

I reckon I am a bit of a sucker for theatre which draws you in to its own private world rather than socking you in the face with oodles of glitzy glamour. Yes I know there are loads in between but, as they say in the best court circles, I am just laying out my case. With intimate pieces you can, if done well, get absorbed in the minutiae of small lives and small happenings and reap emotional rewards far beyond the expectation. Huge dramas with a massive sweep can make you tingle with excitement and knock you back in admiration, but pound for pound, tiny drama poetically written can do it just as well. Conor McPherson’s The Weir is one such case. A play widely acclaimed in London when first shown it was given its own small airing down the B653 and I, and a pleasing full house were glad we went. For two hours nothing happened and we were gripped by it. Either that or they were all asleep and I am buggered if I heard anyone snore.
Apologies for the language, it goes with the territory. There was a lot of ‘fecking’ on stage but as The Weir is a coastal pub in a remote part of County Sligo this is probably understandable. The various inhabitants smoked a bit, drank a lot, and talked more. And some of them paid for their drinks even though mine host Brendan (Steve Leadbetter) was far more generous with the free rounds than any barman I ever met. The regulars were feisty and irascible Jack (Malcolm Hobbs) and the tight fisted and uptight Jim (Robin Langer). A sad and lonely pair, the pub and a winner at Cheltenham the only meaningful focus of their desolate lives. That’s what I felt anyway as I waited patiently for Jim to put his hand in his pocket for his round. Maybe he would on another night, as you felt this evening was only one of many such evenings of introspection. A young woman from Dublin (Julie Gough) is introduced to the pub and its inhabitants by one County Sligo lad who had made good, Finbar Mack (Jonathan Field), and as the drinks flow to the sound of the weir, ghostly and lonely tales are told.  
If the telling of various tales are the heart of the piece it is the fleshing out of the tellers and listeners that makes the play gripping. All are flawed, all are vulnerable, and all carry lots of emotional baggage. We learn of a drowned child, a house built across a fairy road, and a dead child abuser choosing a grave which feeds his predilections. And of a man, Jack, who lost his only love and, seemingly, has spent a lifetime regretting it. But then, almost in his own words, he saw youth as a time for shagging. Nothing was resolved by the time the enigmatic and genial Brendan shut up the bar but that, as they say, is life. You bare your soul and trust that sleep will bring a few hours of oblivion. All to the sounds of the unrelenting weir.
The strength of director Jan Westgarth’s excellent production was the beautiful pacing and the easy way in which all the characters interlinked with one another. The sheer emptiness of most of these lives was full of poetic imagery and pleasing realism. A fine piece of ensemble playing in which we, the audience, were eavesdroppers on a complex slice of Irish life. I would have liked a pub more cluttered, the well stocked bar was good, but walls were sparsely dressed with just a few photographs. And the weir, or was it the wind, suggested little more than a flittering of fairy farts. Atmosphere was writ large, the restrained use of dimmed lighting plied to good effect, but it could have been writ a little larger. But that is theatrical nitpicking. I thoroughly enjoyed the absorbing evening for the realism of the characters and Conor McPherson’s sumptuous text. All the five actors played their part in bringing a difficult play to full and bursting life and Malcolm Hobbs (Jack) was outstanding for the richness of a character riddled with bitterness and comedy in equal proportions. Like me, I hope he has a good Cheltenham. Roy Hall