The Weir is set in Brendan's isolated pub on the west coast of Ireland, four men are gathering for a session, where their boasts are matched by their pints. The arrival of a stranger in their midst – a woman – spurs them to impress her with their story-telling. They are stories of souls past and of spirits very much present. But one story is more chilling and more real than any of them could have foreseen.
Peter McDonald stars in the production as Brendan. As well as working extensively in film and television, Peter has appeared in countless productions at the Donmar, National Theatre, Royal Court and Old Vic. Peter discusses why he thinks The Weir is such a brilliant piece of theatre, what it was like bringing the show to the West End and what audiences can expect from the production…
-The Weir received a hugely positive response when it opened at the Donmar and now West End audiences are embracing the show. What has the journey been like for you?
Obviously anything you do that is well received is a rewarding experience. At the start of rehearsals you are hoping the production will gel and connect with the audience. Its like that at the start of any play but with a play like The Weir there is a desire to do it full justice and make sure it lives up to expectations. As an actor you have to put all that those anxieties out of your mind and just concentrate on inhabiting the part and the piece. It is a pleasure to work on such great material because the more you explore it the more it reveals itself. The play basically takes over. It is fulfilling to be part of that collective experience.
-Were you familiar with the play prior to your involvement?
I’ve known Conor McPherson for a long time as we started out together in the same theatre company in Dublin – Fly by Night Theatre Company – so I have known the play since its first production. It blew me away when I first read and saw it.
-Can you put your finger on what makes it such a brilliant piece of theatre?
It has everything - brilliantly drawn characters, detailed relationships, real laughter, deep pain and emotional truth. It is brilliantly a structured but plays completely by its own rules. And of course it is one of the greatest modern celebrations of the tradition of story telling in Ireland which goes back all the way to the Seanchaithe – in Ancient Celtic times the traditions and history of the people were not written down but passed down orally by the bards/story tellers, the Seanchaithe. They were very important people. So storytelling or the ability to tell a story has always been seen as a great virtue in Ireland. However, telling a story can be a dangerously revealing act on the part of the teller (and the listener) and lead to a very unpredictable evening in the pub.
-What can audiences expect from the production?
Time and time again people come up to me after this show and tell me by the end of the play they felt like they were in the bar themselves. I felt like that when I saw it back in the mid 1990s. I almost didn’t want the characters to go home at the end. That’s what I love to feel at the end of a piece of theatre. I hope that people can get that sense of immersion from the play – because we, as a company of actors, feel it on the stage.
-How did you find going from the more intimate Donmar Warehouse to a larger West End theatre and what was it like revisiting the piece following a break?
There are a few technical things you have to look after but they happen very organically. It takes a preview or two for the company to let their voices settle into the space. It is a beautiful theatre acoustically. There is a thrilling intimacy to the Donmar Warehouse but there are certain advantages to the proscenium theatre as the canvas for the story is more clearly legible for the audience as a whole. As regards having a 7 month break between the two runs, you inevitably discover new things while trying to remember what you did in the original production. The struggle to remember how we did it can also make the cast laugh a lot during the re-rehearsals.
-What are the cast like to work with?
They are a great bunch of people and personalities. They work hard and they all love the play. They all bring such strong performances to the play that it keeps you on your game.
-How do you like to unwind when you’re not onstage?
There is a period where you have to switch your mind off after the play. I normally cycle home which tends to do the trick.
Interview by Andrew Tomlins
The Weir runs at the Wyndham’s Theatre until Saturday 19th April 2014.