The Irish Rep was founded by Ciaran O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore and opened in 1988 with its first play Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Plough and the Stars’. Thirty-one years later, it is still the only theatre in North America to bring Irish plays to New York.
‘The Weir’ was written by Conor McPherson and after seeing his adaptation of ‘Uncle Vanya’ in London, I was interested to see if he would lend his keen wit to this production. Originally staged in 2013 and then re-staged in 2015, the play won an Olivier Award for Best Play and three of the original cast members (John Keating, Sean Gormley and Dan Butler) have returned for this digital version of the production.
Set in 1997 in a country pub in Ireland, Brendan (Tim Ruddy) owns the local pub whilst also running his farm. The pub is the typical insular local where the regulars come in to ‘chew the fat’ and to share local gossip. Pub regulars Jim (John Keating) and Jack (Dan Butler) venture out to the pub on a stormy night as usual and mention that Finbar (Sean Gormley) will be along later with a lady he has met. When he arrives he introduces Valerie (Amanda Quaid) and she is made welcome, in what it would appear to be a very male orientated environment, as when she orders wine Brendan has to go into his house to find her some and the ladies toilets are apparently to be avoided!
Valerie settles down and Jack begins to tell the story of another windy night quickly followed with stories from Finbar and Jim. In true Irish style, each story is followed by a whiskey chaser and soon it is Valerie’s turn to tell her story.
The play was filmed in different parts of the US and the skill is to make the viewer not even realise this. Knowing that the performers are not actually together makes this production an even greater achievement. Ciaran O’Reilly has directed the performers and the filming of the play to make it feel as though you are watching a staged performance. There is no awkwardness and the performances all feel natural and it all flows well. The filming has been shot so that it appears as though all five characters are sitting around the same bar. The script has been written in such a way that tension is built gradually but the dialogue is delivered in a wonderfully comedic fashion so offering both humour and suspense. The backdrop of each actor changes as they move around the pub which enhances the feeling of them being in the same room, so by combining the wonderful scenic design by Charlie Corcoran and the superb direction by O’Reilly, this is one of the best digital productions I have seen. The eerie atmosphere is enhanced by sound designer M. Florian Staab who creates the high winds which helps to give the pub its ambiance.
This superb production finishes on 25th July, but please remember when booking from the UK that the theatre time is New York time.
If you would like to watch one of the final performances, then book via the website link below: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1029113?_ga=2.67428434.2140603217.1595591807-903959904.1594060265
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 22nd July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★