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Theatre Review: The Weir, Wyndham's Theatre

23/01/2014 17:38 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

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This production of The Weir is so warm and intimate, it makes you feel as if you've just pulled up a bar stool in a rural Irish pub for the evening.

The premise of this play is a simple one. The four men at a small pub in rural Ireland, more a converted outhouse, are excited by the arrival of a stranger. This stranger, a woman from Dublin, is coming to their pub for a drink.

Each of the men is determined to impress her with their stories, local legends and fanciful tales. But lost in the need to impress the woman in their midst, they end up revealing more about themselves than they ever intended.

This may seem a low-stakes story on the surface but this is a very well-crafted play. On its première in 1997, The Weir won the Evening Standard, Critics' Circle and Olivier Awards for Best New Play. And well-deserved too as Conor McPherson captures rural Ireland beautifully in style, attitude and language. His writing balances real wit with genuinely poignant moments.

This production of The Weir, its first major British revival, originally ran at the Donmar last Spring where it was hugely popular. The intimacy of the Donmar was a perfect setting for this play but little of that closeness and warmth has been lost in the transfer to the Wyndham's.

Josie Rourke's direction really brings out the best in the play, giving actors the space to develop their characters with idiosyncrasies, and allowing the tedium of spending an evening in a pub to be reflected in the prolonged silences. The pacing of the play shows a brave, deft touch and the risk of letting moments of reflection hang gives the production a lot of truth.

And she is supported by a terrific cast of five, all of whom were in the version shown at the Donmar.

Most will, of course, recognise Brian Cox who plays Jack, the aging single man whose big character dominates the pub for good and for ill. As ever, his performance is superb. Ardal O'Hanlon is also a familiar face from his comedy stand-up and Father Ted and his portrayal of Jim, a loner ill at ease in the company of strangers is beautifully done.

Dervla Kirwan is almost a household name for her time in Ballykissangel and she is perfect as Valerie, the woman from the big city enchanted by the village but as much running away from something as she is running towards the peace and quiet.

Finbar, the man most determined to impress Valerie, is played perfectly by Risteárd Cooper. Very much the wide-boy of the village with his white suit and wilful flaunting of his comparative wealth, Cooper ensures his Finbar has enough depth to balance out the comic touches.

Peter McDonald plays Brendan, the single middle-aged man who runs the pub, and he gives a perfectly understated performance as a man just trying to get on with life without getting caught up between the strong characters that dominate his pub and, seemingly, his life.

If you like your theatre as THEATRE - big productions with plenty of effects and shocks - then The Weir is not for you. No character is profoundly changed by the end - each leaves much the way they came in. Nor is it clear if anything's been learnt or resolved.

Instead The Weir is all about moments in time, small revelations on incidents in life, incidents that have come and gone. Often these types of plays can lack narrative drive, audiences dozing off before the end, but not in this instance. I found The Weir to be tender and truthful and utterly captivating.

Wyndham's Theatre, London

To April 19, 2014