A man walks into a bar…

The Weir by Conor McPherson

Occasionally we like to have a different kind of reading experience in our Book Group, and for this month’s read, we chose a play. This particular choice was  prompted by the fact that the father of one of our number was mounting a production later this autumn.

Older plays on the page tend to have minimal descriptive scene-setting text apart from occasional stage directions. The Weir though sets the scene perfectly for us over a couple of pages, for there is no dialogue for a few minutes.

A man walks into a bar … but not just any bar. This is a room in a farmhouse in rural Sligo in the North-West of Ireland – home of W.B.Yeats and boyband Westlife. McPherson describes how Jack, a garage owner, comes in and pours himself a pint, before Brendan the publican comes in and they strike up a conversation. Before long they are joined by Jim, and the discussion turns to a young woman, Valerie, who’s taking on an old house in the area.  A while later, Finbar arrives with Valerie, and the younger men take to telling spooky stories about the area, competing to get Valerie’s attention. Then Valerie tells her own story, which is of tragedy and loss and everything is changed. The younger chaps leave, and Jack finally tells his story in a long monologue. He finally gives Valerie a lift home.

That’s it in a nutshell – an evening of banter and competitive story-telling in the pub which turns into a more personal outpouring. A simple premise that build up nicely without ever losing its head, and ends with stronger bonds being formed between all concerned. The weir, by the way, is a local landmark – a hydroelectric dam – in a picture on the wall, and naturally representing the watery flow of the stories.

JACK: Are we right?
BRENDAN: Close enough. Cheers.
JACK: Good luck.
– JACK takes a long drink. Pause.
JACK: I know I do be at you. I’ll keep at you though.
BRENDAN: About what?
JACK: Don’t be messing. Come on.
JACK: A youngfella like you. A this place a right going concern.
BRENDAN: Ah, The odd time. Youknow, the odd time I’d think about it.
JACK: You should though.
BRENDAN: Well then, so should you.
JACK: Would you do on? AN auldfella like me!
BRENDAN: Would you listen to him?
JACK: Sure what would I want giving up my freedom?
BRENDAN: Well then me as well!
– Pause
JACK: Tch. Maybe. Maybe there’s something to be said for the old independence.
BRENDAN: Ah there is.
– Pause
JACK: A lot to ne said for it.
BRENDAN: Mm. (Pause.) Mm.
JACK: Cheers.
BRENDAN: Good luck.
– JACK takes a long drink. The main door opens and JIM enters.
– He takes off an anorak to reveal a festive look cardigan.
– JACK pretends not to notice him.

The quote above is typical of blokes’ chat (although I picked a non-sweary bit). It’s very complete, in that all the mms and ahs are in the text.  We all thought it must be difficult to learn.

As I read, I felt compelled to act it out in my head – complete with Oirish accent. Although my late Mum was from Belfast, I can’t sustain a passable Irish accent at all. Then I realised I was mentally channelling Mrs Brown (from Mrs Brown’s Boys – probably my least-liked TV sitcom ever, and ironically my Dad’s current favourite). Once I adjusted myself to thinking more of the marvellous actor Brendan Gleeson, as seen in the movies In Bruges, and The Guard, I was onto safer ground.

Some of us felt the faerie touch in the spooky stories the characters tell more than others. I’ve obviously read too many dark novels, for I was expecting something a little more fantastic, but we all agreed that Valerie’s tale was very real and brought everyone down to earth. It’s a wistful play – full of thinking what might have been but also hopeful. It may sound all doom and gloom, but there’s humour too in the craic.

Whilst not a conventional book group choice, we all enjoyed reading it. We’d throughly recommend occasionally choosing a different style or genre of read to spice up your book group reading. (We read non-fiction sometimes too, and have made small ventures into graphic novels and poetry.)

Downton Abbey fans will be pleased to see that the part of Brendan in the extended original run of the play at the Royal Court Theatre was played by Mr Bates himself, Brendan Coyle.

The play was also recently revived at the Donmar Warehouse with an all-star cast led by Brian Cox, with Ardal O’Hanlon and Dervla Kirwan. I bet that was good.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Weir by Conor McPherson, 1997, Nick Hearn Books

7 thoughts on “A man walks into a bar…

    • gaskella says:

      That’s the third play we’ve read – but in ten years, even worse for poetry and graphic novels (one of each in ten years), but we do better with non-fiction with one or sometimes two books per year. Variety is what we aim for.

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