Tales of the unexpected

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
The Weir. By Conor McPherson. Pitlochry Festival Theatre. July 28 to October 13, in rep. Tel: 01796 484626

Accents should be right in Richard Baron's Pitlochry revival of Conor McPherson's pub-talk tales of the supernatural; actor Angela McGowan's family comes from the district of Leitrim, County Sligo, where the play is set. Her character, Valerie, the sole female, is a Dubliner moving to this rural area, much to the surprise of the regulars in the bar where playwright McPherson lets alcohol increasingly loosen tongues. Baron sees the different places as expressing a tension between traditional and modern.

He says that the regulars' easy masculine routine is established at the start when Jack enters, helping himself to a drink and operating the till.

It's almost an all-male living-room, without trappings. This pub is an important community centre, for talking and sharing problems with its own rituals and regulars taking their usual seats.

It is, he says, unprepared for women; there is neither wine nor a ladies'

toilet for Valerie. It is a hopeful sign that she eventually feels easy enough to stay on without her escort Finbar and to tell her intimate story to these men she has just met: it is an important moment in a play about loss and loneliness The men have a pecking order: there's the voluble, dominant Jack, Brendan who is quieter, and Jim, who seems less bright. Finbar brings a note of rivalry with Jack. He is not a regular, but is something of a Jack-the-Lad and has wider experience as a result of his travels.

Male competitiveness gives way through the play, says Baron, to the point where Valerie's story stuns the men into silence. There is a progression through their stories, from the quite generalised folksiness of Jack's tale, through Finbar's more ghostly account, to Jim's disturbing story of a paedophile and a girl's grave: "Not a nice story to tell in front of a lady," says Baron - even before we discover what happened to Valerie's daughter.

The tales also become more compelling as the play proceeds. Finbar certainly reveals a more vulnerable side. The men move beyond strutting, putting on a display before the newly arrived woman, "so Valerie becomes comfortable enough to tell her personal story to men she has just met".

Valerie's story is "incredibly real to her".

The director needs to orchestrate the pace, observes Baron, ensuring the stories do not remain isolated but form part of a dramatic progress, earning the right to the shocked silence after Valerie's narrative. And, crucially, "The production needs to justify so much revelation in a short time."

Timothy Ramsden

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