To mark the 20th Anniversary of Conor McPherson’s chilling modern classic, this latest production – directed by Adele Thomas – arrived in Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre to frighten the bejesus out of audience members. With a running time of 140min and no interval (which is the most frightening aspect!) you’d be well advised to consult the loo before taking your seat.

THE WEIR is the Winner of the 1997 Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the title derives from the name of the pub in which the action takes place, as well as the hydroelectric dam on the nearby waterway. There aren’t any changes as far as scenes are concerned; in fact the entire play is set in the aforementioned pub, in this case a rural Irish pub on a bitter-cold and windswept night. Publican Brendan (Sam O’Mahoney), a youngish lad, gets ready to serve his usual punters and god knows there aren’t many. First to enter is pub regular Jack (Sean Murray), a mechanic and owner of a garage. Brendan and Jack embark on a casual discussion about this and that when Jim (John O’Dowd), another pub regular, enters. Soon they discuss Finbar (Louis Dempsey) and Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), with the occasional bitchy remarks about Finbar – a smartly dressed businessman who is married but who announced his arrival with Valerie, an attractive woman from Dublin. She has just moved to the area where she rents an old house. Brendan, Jack and Jim agree that it is a bit ‘off’ for Finbar, the married lad, to appear with a young woman in tow and that she should decide for herself when to come along to the pub. However, as it turns out later, it isn’t really an issue in any case.

No sooner has the discussion around Fin and Val ended when the pair enters the pub and the atmosphere immediately changes to one of light-hearted banter and polite small talk. It’s obvious that neither publican Brendan nor the others are used to female guests: when Valerie asks for a glass of white wine Brendan isn’t even sure he has a bottle, neither does he seem to have any wine glasses and instead pours Valerie a pint of wine. In a later scene, it transpires that the ‘Ladies’ are out of order too. Despite these minor setbacks Valerie is excited to discover some old pictures hanging on the wall and Jack, Jim and Finbar begin to reminiscence about the past when Jack mentions just how steeped in ghostly folklore the area is. Valerie is all ears and insists on hearing the tales and so the first ghostly story is told by Jack, who remembers some of the buildings, including the house which Valerie rents, was built on a ‘fairy road’ and the fairies still try to get through it to this day (towards the end of the play Jack reveals another story, one that is not a ghost story but one which haunts him nonetheless).

Then it’s Finbar’s turn to tell his story, also going back to his childhood. Next up is Jim though his memory of a ghostly encounter is considerably more sinister as it involves the apparition of someone who most likely was a pervert or paedophile – the hints are strong and unsettling. After Jim’s tale everyone goes quiet in a state of discomfort and unease, but the most disturbing tale comes from Valerie who, up until now, has merely been listening to the others. Her tale, although supernatural in parts, is both shockingly real and incredibly sad… and the reason why she moved away from Dublin. Upon hearing it the men decide that their yarns of fairy folk and goblins fade into silly insignificance compared to Valerie’s tale.
That’s pretty much it. No creepy special effects (sorry to disappoint you) or other effects which may have you at the edge of yer seat. Occasionally the lights flicker and go slightly darker but other than that this is good old story telling in its purest form – and it still is part of Irish tradition. Anyone visiting rural Ireland (and this reviewer has lived there for several years) will tell you that the Irish like nothing better than sharing some ripping yarns around a cosy fireplace during cold winter nights. And tourists (in particular the Germans) love listening in without understanding what’s actually going on – an on-going joke throughout the play. That said, it is highlighted that rural ‘Oirish’ folk love wallowing in their own ignorance too: “Where do the Germans actually come from? Denmark? Sweden?” Jack and Jim don’t have a clue while Brendan simply doesn’t care.

A play with next to no action demands some very strong performances to hold the audience’s attention and Louis Dempsey, Sean Murray, John O’Dowd and Sam O’Mahoney deliver just that! Unfortunately, Natalie Radmall-Quirke was at times difficult to hear – her voice changing from clear and loud to low which is a shame seeing how her tale is the most important: it proves that people can be even more haunted by real events than by supernatural ones.
Last but not least, a big mention must go the terrific set construction (courtesy of the Mercury Theatre Colchester).

THE WEIR runs until Saturday Feb 24th (