Life lessons in a pub

image from the weirReview by Penny Mulvey

Play | The Weir | Melbourne Theatre Company

Three Irishmen in a pub, and in comes a younger woman. No, this is not a joke, it is the premise for the latest offering from the Melbourne Theatre Company – the 1997 play The Weir, by Conor McPherson.

And like a good joke, it is a beautifully crafted story.

The pub setting is both familiar and dated, immediately making the audience feel both comfortable and attentive to what lies ahead. As audience members find their seats, the pub owner is preparing for opening – vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning – the mundane but necessary tasks of life.

Brendan, the publican, played by Ian Meadows, has lived in this remote part of Ireland his entire life. He owns the pub and the surrounding land, and like all good bartenders, he knows all the gossip and the orders, listens well, and speaks when necessary.

The first customer, Jack (Peter Kowitz), a regular who pours his own Guinness and pays direct into the till, brings big news. Finbar (Greg Stone), a former friend turned businessman who has clearly taken over much of the town, is bringing a female visitor to the pub.

The conversation between bartender and regular is of mundane small-town gossip. An observer of human nature and his own peccadillos, the playwright crafts a riveting piece of theatre that begins with small talk, and, as tongues are loosened by spirits and bravado, moves into wonderful storytelling of fairies, ghosts, and death.

Standout cast members are Robert Menzies as Jim and Nadine Garner as Valerie, the stranger who has moved into their midst. Jim is almost an Eeyore-type character – prime carer for his ageing mother, single; his life and dreams seem to have passed him by. Menzies brings humanity and humour to Jim, as he sits hunched over his ‘pint and a small one’ in the corner.

While the leprechaun is not mentioned, there is much talk of fairies, shadows and knocking at doors and windows. These urban myths have become legendary within this small Irish community. They represent the stories that fill the memories and can sometimes define the present in all of us.

The Weir reminds us that behind our masks lie individual stories of great magnitude – of loss; rejection; failure; love and hope. The pub yarns invite us to reflect on missed connections; friendships that have come and gone and of the hope that presents itself in each new day.

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