The Weir. Lyceum Theatre

Last night I went to see The Weir, by Conor McPherson, directed by Amanda Gaughan at the Lyceum Theatre. Before I get on to the meat and potatoes of the play I have to also say I sat in one of the worst audiences I have ever been in.

We were in the upper circle, and had a pretty good views of the stage.  Once the performance started though it was like at least 50% of the upper circle were conspiring to break any dramatic tension or concentration.  There was the woman who told someone off very loudly and aggressively for using a phone, and other people for talking, but thought it was ok for herself to turn round and comment to us loudly about the swearing in the play.  There were a group of school children, who I think maybe did not have English as a first language, who spent a lot of the time whispering to each other.  There were then the multiple times people got up to speak to the ushers and complain, move seats, come back to collect bags, the ushers (who were obviously having a tough performance) coming down repeatedly to ask people to switch off phones or to be quiet.  Then the school children left, loudly and slowly.  This was all in the first twenty minutes and completely ruined the part of the narrative where we have the place, character and relationships set up.

The play is set in a rural Irish pub.  I was with a Irish friend who commented afterwards that the Irishness of it was rendered accurately.  It is a wet and rainy night, and a new member of the community, a woman, comes to this pub populated by men, and the telling of ghost stories ensues.

The telling of ghost stories is just a vehicle though to say something larger about story telling itself.  What the play ultimately tells us is that when we tell any story (in whatever genre) we are really talking about ourselves.  Whether it is the self as an individual of the self of wider humanity.  It’s not just the telling of stories that gives us this information though, it’s how we chose to hear the story, how the hearers reacts, that informs that informs the continuing unvoiced dialogue between people.

The atmosphere was beautifully accomplished, with the splashes of rain in puddles visible to the audience, and a slow sunset and rising moon in real time creating the kind of attention to detail that is the foundation of the illusion of theatre.  The cast, while having a challenging performance due to the audience carried on professionally, and their skilled performances easily brought whole, and familiar, lives and characters of the pub customers to life.  Special mention has to go for Lucianne McEvoy’s gripping monologue, and to the whole cast, for one of the best silences I’ve ever heard.

The version of humanity that McPherson shows us in this play is one which at times is a little pompous, a little scared, kind and with a tender interior.  Most of all it is a humanity which is a little broken, a little battered, a little rough around the edges, but one where hearts can recognise and sing their sadnesses to each other – and this in itself is ordinary, mundane, and slightly beautiful.

The Weir: Four stars

Upper circle audience:  No stars




Black Velvet by Tony Ramsay

For a short time only Tony Ramsay’s radio play Black Velvet is on the BBC iplayer.  This is one of my favourite radio plays, and is also a great example of how incredibly the horror genre can work on radio.

The forty-five minute play follows Master Richard and servant girl Annie, as they are alone in Thoresbey Hall, where Master Richard compels Annie to play at being mistress of the house.

What Black Velvet demonstres so well is the real intimacy of radio, which has lead it to being an enduring medium no matter how technologically eclipsed it is.  It’s not horror’s sexualised intimacy as in the creepy vampire voice whispering temptation in beautiful virgins ear.  It’s intimacy of character and mind.  Because of the lack of visuals you have to make them up in your own head, and that is the snuggest place any story can ever fit.  It’s also the most scary.

In a few short scenes we gain a lot of knowledge about Master Richards psychological state, it’s frailty and his background.  Over the course of the play we become uniquely entangled in Annie’s plight.  It’s as though we have been welcomed into parts of these characters lives and predicaments that we could only witness if we were really there, really part of the story, as much as the characters within it.

When you come across a really well written piece of radio it always feels as though it is speaking uniquely to you, not at you, but speaking right inside of you.  Everything else fades away.  If you’re only going to listen to one piece of radio this week, this well measured, paced, characterised and structured piece should be it.  I recommend listening in the dark.