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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Weir, theatre review

Published in Northings

The Weir
Regal Theatre, Bathgate

IT IS fashionable among a certain generation of theatregoers to suggest there is something old-fashioned, even reactionary, about story-telling. Yet you only have to observe an audience for Conor McPherson's Olivier Award-winning play, The Weir, to see how helplessly we are transfixed by a gripping narrative.

The playwright understands the human need for stories and, putting aside an appalling example of inappropriate sweet rustling on the front row of the Regal in the most poignant scene, Mull Theatre's production holds us spellbound.

In some ways this is strange. On the surface, it doesn't look as if there is much to McPherson's 1997 play. Set in a rural Irish bar, it is about nothing more than three middle-aged locals and a barman telling ghost stories to an outsider who is escaping the big city. Soon after last orders, they drink up and go home. It gets no more complex than that.

Yet in Alasdair McCrone's production on an all-too-recognisable bar-room set by Alicia Hendrick, the power of these tales pulls us in. We may sense the playwright is toying with the clich├ęs of rural Irish culture, juxtaposing a belief in fairies and things that go bump in the night with a very modern world of paedophiles and childhood tragedy, but even if we suspect McPherson of playing games with us, it makes us no more resistant to his gift for a well-told tale.

It means that as the stories turn from the spooky but essentially whimsical to the disturbingly real, we are very susceptible to their power. Laura Harvey's quiet and undemonstrative portrait of the incomer, a bereaved mother from Dublin, is not only moving in itself, it also reminds us of the therapeutic function of a community coming together to share its stories and to try to make sense of a cruel world.

On the one hand, the characters are defined by their loneliness and loss, but on the other, they are momentarily relieved of their pain in the act of sharing it. Coming from Mull Theatre, a company as steeped in the ceilidh culture as any, this seems all the more apt.

© Mark Fisher, 2010

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