Review – The Weir, Donmar Warehouse

Thursday 25 April 2013

8082_fullAnother 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.



8 Responses to “Review – The Weir, Donmar Warehouse”

  1. Federico Says:

    I have just seen an equally wonderful version of this play in my country, Argentina, called “El Dique”. Intense performances and one of the creepiest atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. And no cellphones, thanks God.

  2. Mike Says:

    Hi Phil and Andrew,
    Well, please don’t leave us all in the air like that ! What happened ? WAS the phone culprit caught. WERE they truly sheepish ? HOW LONG before it finally stopped ?
    I have a vested interest in this as there is a spooky concidence here. I acted in this play a couple of years ago, playing the Brian Cox part. At the start of one performance I detected a faint mobile ring – not a call ring, but almost as though someone had set an alarm (perhaps to tell them to switch their phone aff at 7.45 !!!). It never stopped. I mean for the whole performance. At one point the ASM was crawling along the seats trying to find the source. At the start of Finbar’s monologue he actually addressed the audience, in character, to tell them to shut the ******* thing off. No effect whatsoever. The bizarre thing was that every member of the audience thought that it was coming from a different direction. It finally stopped when the audience left! It was the most stressful performance I have ever done.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      It was a dull but audible and persistent noise that when on for several minutes throughout his speech. Brian Cox seemed to know exactly where (in the circle) it was coming from.

      It wasn’t even switched off immediately after Cox’s request. His exact words were reported in yesterday’s Richard Kay column in the Daily Mail but I couldn’t remember them as I was too busy feeling guilty myself even though I knew it wasn’t me (felt like being back at school when the whole class is admonished for one person’s actions). Probably only 15 to 20 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity in that atmosphere.

      Suddenly a woman jumped up taking a large bag with her and left the auditorium never to be seen again. Hopefully never to be seen again in any theatre ever.

      Cox picked up where he left off in a beat, but (for me) it took a while to get back into his story.

      The Donmar really need to make an announcement before the show, especially this one!

  3. Alex Says:

    Great review, thanks. Shame about the mobile phone!

  4. They do now make announcements. At press night the theatre manager came on stage and also ranged among the seating blocks telling people to silence their phones.

  5. Lee Wilson Says:

    Perhaps they have learned from this lesson, on Saturday evening they mentioned turning off phones as I showed my ticket at the bottom of the stars, and then again at least twice in the auditorium. As an aside, I had an embarrassing moment where the usher showed me to the correct seat but in the wrong row and then had someone else arrive a minute later. I never sit in the wrong seat on my own, I hate being helped!! I thought the performances were fantastic but I had expected a little more creepiness or downright horror from the story and found it to be much more subtle than I expected.

  6. Boz Says:

    A shame, since the Donmar has form with the superb pre-show reminder about mobiles for The Recruiting Officer.

    Can’t believe you managed to get through a review without mentioning Dervla’s rather delicious (to my eyes) other half. He isn’t just any husband..

    (I am truly terrible.)

  7. Tw co Says:

    A the hype about Bryan Cox and Succession. Had to Google what was that play we saw him in London and it was the weir. We love the theater and almost never have a bad review but this play with the Irish accent you couldn’t understand a thing. Maybe British people could but as Americans I could not understand the brogue. It was hot in the theater and we couldn’t wait for it to end. I still don’t know what it was about because it was impossible to understand Brian Cox and the other people. So there. A post about 2014

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