Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Jack and Brendan

Stan Hubbard as Jack and Alex Howell as Brendan

The Weir

Circle Players

Aldridge Youth Theatre


THERE is not a lot for lonely old blokes to do in the backwaters of rural Ireland except go to the pub, talk and tell tall tales, particularly when the German tourists are not around.

Not that the Germans are German of course, they could be from Norway, or Denmark, German being generic, and being Ireland the tales have a hint of the supernatural about them . . . ghosts.

Conor McPherson’s modern classic from 1997 is set in The Weir, the bar run by Brendan, unmarried and hardly best friends with his sisters.

Brendon’s bar, a good looking set incidentally, is hardly smart. The ladies is out of order, the Guinness pump is ‘fecked’ and a request for white wine needs a search of last year’s Christmas presents in Brendan’s living quarters to find a bottle.

But it is how his regulars like it; regulars such as Jack, the local garage owner and Jim, odd-job man and Jack’s sometime assistant, whose mother has been dying for years.

Then there is Finbar; Finbar, the self-made success Valerie and Jimstory who “spotted the gaps” and left for the bright lights to make his fortune, returning to take over the local hotel as the local businessman.

He’s the only one married but his wife is mentioned so little that she is merely another ghost.

But tonight there is a hint of excitement, a newcomer, Valerie, a woman from Dublin seeking peace and quiet who has rented an old house from Finbar who has brought her into The Weir to meet the locals.

Liz Daly as Valerie with David Daly as Jim

The eponymous bar, incidentally, is named after the nearby hydroelectric plant, mentioned only briefly, merely to show all the men’s fathers worked on the construction, establishing they are born, bred and steeped in the village.

Alex Howell is a quiet Brendan who can never make his mind up whether he will have one for himself – but he usually does. He doesn’t get on with his sisters and has catholic tastes when it comes to relationships – seeing Finbar, a married man, driving Valerie, a married woman, around to see the sights as something wrong. But as a good barman he just holds his peace and serves the drinks.

Jack, played by Stan Hubbard, is the gruff, salt of the earth type who drinks Guinness – what else! – so is less than impressed that the tap is broken and he is reduced to bottles, Harp and the odd small one of Jameson’s. You feel he does not really like Finbar, a man who deserted the village for a better life then returned trying to laud it over everyone.

Not that he is far wrong. Finbar, played by John Holmes, does appear to see himself as a cut above the rest, he wears a suit, collar and tie for a start, and seems to enjoy blowing his own trumpet while, even in jest, seems to regard the rest of the village, Brendan, Jack and Jim included, as country bumpkins.

Jim, played by David Daly, is the quietest of the three, a man whose only interest seems to be The Racing Post and studying form, although he does seem to have some success on the ponies and has even come up with an 11/4 winner for himself and Jack that day.

McPherson said of his award-winning play that “it is just people talking”, but talk can be a powerful thing in skilled hands.

The stories start with Jack persuaded to tell a tale of the strange goings on surrounding a fairy road which runs through the house Valerie has rented, then Finbar comes up with ghosts on stairs and finally Jim weighs in with a grave digger’s tale about a paedophile corpse.

That was the final straw so they decide no more tales, except Valerie has her own tale to tell.

Up to this point Liz Daly’s Valerie has been a guest, a pleasant enough onlooker, but once she starts her story she grips the emotions. The previFinbarous tales, well told, with, if not exactly terror, at least a hint of fear, had been engaging but Valerie’s story was no tall tale, it was a tragic recounting of the events that had made her leave Dublin, a true, terrible tale albeit with a supernatural end – another ghost.

In a few short moments she had the audience clutched tight in her hand. An emotional, convincing performance.

As the hour grew late and Jim and Finbar headed home, the remaining trio huddled around the fire for warmth and Jack told the final tale, nothing supernatural here, just an outpouring of love lost and what might have beens, as sad a story in its own way as Valerie’s tale of loss. There may be no ghosts but Jack is haunted just the same.

Jon Holmes as Finbar with Brendan behind the bar

This is a play revolving around the ancient art of storytelling. Apart from regular pints pulled and small ones poured nothing much happens, yet the words hold you for the full hour and a half or so without interval, which is no mean feat.

Director Ellie Ball has kept a nice pace, slow, steady but insistent. It is never slow enough to drag, never fast enough to feel rushed, just right for a quiet night in a west coast Irish pub.

The cast of four play their parts beautifully with some nice touches; Jack opening the fire to smoke, Bredan pouring undrunk brandy back in the bottle, Finbar, with an ostentatious flourish, pulling out a 50 euro note – which is probably worth about £60 by now.

And then there are the accents which are essential to the play. The Irish accents were passable but more important they were consistent. There is nothing worse for an audience than an accent which changes location or even continent with each speech. No danger of that here; whichever part of Ireland an accent was from it stayed there so you could tune in to each character from the start.

And tune in you did. By the end you felt, even in a small way, that you knew them well which is a tribute to some fine acting. Not a lot happens but it still makes for a most entertaining evening. To 22-10-16

Roger Clarke


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