Review: The Weir at Cambridge Arts Theatre - inspired writing and immaculate story-telling

Sean Murray, Sam O'Mahony and Natalie Radmall-Quirke in The Weir at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Sean Murray, Sam O'Mahony and Natalie Radmall-Quirke in The Weir at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

I won’t be the first to say that the opening for The Weir, Conor McPherson’s spell-binding play, with three men and a woman walking into a bar, sounds like the start of a joke.

There is a lot of humour in it but at its heart is a collection of ghost stories. A young woman has moved into a remote Irish village and on a freezing cold night, as the wind whistles outside, she is taken to the pub by her new neighbour and hears chilling tales from the other drinkers.

These are familiar old stories to the locals but a visitor is good opportunity to take them out and relish them again.

They don’t expect her to have a story. But she does and when she tells it, it is the most rivetting of all.

If anyone can tell a story with more atmosphere created, and greater talent at putting a chill down your spine, than the Irish, it’s a group of people that I haven’t discovered yet.

Here is inspired writing and immaculate story-telling. It goes beyond acting. You see all the people they describe and the darkness they move in. You are taken to places.

This is a perfect cast, each owning their character and defining the role: Louis Dempsey as the married, man-about-town Finbar, Sean Murray as Jack, the aging, dapper bachelor, John O’Dowd as the rather bashful Jim, still at home looking after his mother, and Sam O’Mahony as the kind-hearted, young barman Brendan.

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Together, they reveal the community that Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke) has just joined. Her story, which shakes them all, is told bravely, with simple truth and is all the more poignant for that. The actor holds back the emotion so that the audience shares it with her.

Presented by English Touring Theatre and directed by Adele Thomas, this is a deft work, brilliantly performed, to remind us what is meant by theatre.

The Weir is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 10.