As soon as you enter the auditorium for the Apollo Players’ latest show, you’re in for a treat: the hugely talented set design crew have surpassed themselves in reproducing a rural Irish pub. From the flickering peat stove, to the beer pulls that look as if they have produced countless pints of Guinness and lager, to the hay bales in the adjoining barn, the stage is quite literally set for an evening in Brendan’s cosy bar.
Brendan, played with understated humour by Robbie Gwinnett, is resigned to his apparent lot as host to his regulars, and we feel that we are witnessing a typical evening as grumpy Jack (Colin Ford) comes in and helps himself to a drink, complaining about the malfunctioning tap and putting his money in the till. The general banter between the two reflects local life, and they are joined by Michael Arnell’s gently spoken Jimmy, who has ‘got more going on’ in his head ‘than popular opinion would give him credit for’.
So far, so usual, until the conversation turns to a newcomer in the village – a rare event, we surmise – and a woman too, who is renting a house from Finbar, a local married man who, to his friends’ mix of scorn and jealousy, appears to be escorting her around the area.
When we meet Finbar and Valerie the dynamic changes, with the men vying for her attention by relating anecdotes which invoke the ancient spirit of old Ireland with its tales of fairy folk and the supernatural. David Vince’s Finbar dominates the pub and the stage – we learn that he has moved out of the area and returned, and both he and Valerie, played by Ginnie Orrey, have a veneer of sophistication lacked by the others. This gives rise to some humour when she throws Brendan into turmoil by asking for a glass of wine and to use the Ladies’ – the lack of female companionship in the men’s lives is thrown into sharp relief here.
It is a very difficult task to sustain a strong accent such as that of rural Ireland throughout a play, and the cast are to be congratulated on their efforts; however, these accents and the very Irish dialect words and cadences of speech did at times make the dialogue difficult to follow – I note that even professional productions of the play have made use of native Irish speakers, which reflects this difficulty.
That said, the men’s anecdotes build towards the sharply real and tragic story that Valerie has to tell, and in the final scene one is left wondering whether the younger characters’ lives will follow the empty pattern of the older men or whether there is a glimmer of hope for something more.
The Weir will be staged every evening from Tuesday 2nd April to Saturday 5th April, curtain up 7.30pm. Tickets are available from the Apollo website at https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/the-weir/ Or from the box office on 01983 210010.