Another week, another theatrical first.* Well, a first for us. Though sadly what led to this first is becoming a norm.
Barely two weeks after leaving Children of the Sun with a fire alarm – triggered by a stage effect – ringing in our ears, still more ringing dominates the punters’ leaving-the-theatre discussions.
The Donmar didn’t have a pre-show announcement to switch off mobiles (not that some people take any notice). And, of course, one went off. Someone had to take action. That someone was Brian Cox (the actor, not the particle physicist with the 90s rock band hair).
Perhaps inspired by James McAvoy stopping Macbeth recently, or the late Richard Griffiths, Cox stopped The Weir during his last big speech towards the end. The muffled sound of a phone had been tinkling away distractingly for several minutes. Cox went silent (unlike the device), waited expectantly for a few moments before asking politely for it to be switched off. He clearly wasn’t going on until it stopped. Quite right too.
The audience surveyed the auditorium trying to identify the guilty person. It was Broadchurch revisited. How couldn’t the culprit have noticed? It must have been an important call; perhaps news of a post-show casserole waiting at home (possible as the play finishes at 9.15pm)? It went on an on. But then this was the sort of person who probably stands on the wrong side of the escalator, pushes alighting passengers out of the way when boarding a train and cycles on the pavement when not using public transport.
It was a particularly bad time for it to happen as this is a play which relies completely on building up an atmosphere and had already had many moments where the spell could easily have been broken.
Conor McPherson‘s Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award-winning 1997 play** is set in a remote Irish pub where locals gather to banter, cajole, argue and tell stories. Little happens on stage. It’s one of the most tell-but-not-showiest of plays and shouldn’t work. That it does is quite remarkable. That it still did after the incident – even more so.
Phil saw it first time round and was gripped then. Josie Rourke‘s revival is equally mesmerising. The locals Jack (Cox), Jim (Father Ted‘s Dougal, Ardal O’Hanlon) and Finbar (Risteárd Cooper) each tell a tale with a supernatural twist. They haven’t so much kissed the Blarney Stone as tongued it till their lips bleed. That is until Dubliner Valerie (Dervla Kirwan) who has recently moved into the area tells her spiritually angled yet more-grounded-in-reality story. Catharsis ensues.
Brendan (Peter McDonald) the publican is the only one who doesn’t relate a tale. Little wonder: he’s too busy dispensing spirits to tell yarns about them. The size of his measures suggested Andrew had trained him.
The performers drag us into their tales in such a lean-forward-in-your-seat way we must dust off the (admittedly not that dusty) word ‘ensemble’ again. Kirwan gives a completely natural and unaffected performance and Cox is splendidly compelling, deserving extra credit for handling that situation with such aplomb.
Tom Scutt’s pub setting is believably rural with a deliciously cluttered bar area. From the circle it’s possible to spot a box of Quavers behind the counter. Another a theatrical first for us.
* Phil possibly kissed the Blarney as a child (but can’t be sure, to be sure) and is given to share a couple of related true-but-not-ghostly reminiscences:
He was once at Peter Shaffer‘s 1992 The Gift of the Gorgon when, during Judi Dench’s climactic speech a voice from the back of the circle shouted, “Is there a doctor in the house?”. All heads turned as a kerfuffle ensued at the back of the theatre and a man was eventually carried out. Judi carried on regardless and gradually won the audience back one by one. What a trouper.
Slightly off-topic, but on that topic. He was also on a plane to New York once when 20 minutes into the flight the tannoy announced “Is there a doctor on the flight?” The single gentleman of a certain age sitting next to Phil turned to him and exclaimed in the campest of tones, “Oh my God. The captain’s had a heart attack!” Sadly no Judi on board, but there was a doctor and the flight was able to continue.
** The Weir was voted one of the 100 most significant plays of the 20th Century in a poll conducted by the Royal National Theatre, London. It tied at 40th place with Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge and Noël Coward’s The Vortex. Goodness.