5 Quotes From 5 Chief Theatre Critics About The Weir

critics blog actualWhen it comes to assessing a play’s worth, it can be best to leave it to the experts…

Plays like The Weir are very rare. Why so? Well, The Weir is a modern favourite of the critics. Not only is it seen as a vital constituent to the Anglo-Irish canon of theatre but also as one of the great English plays of the modern era. You’ll see why this is the case after you read the responses of some of the world’s greatest theatre critics to Conor McPherson’s masterpiece, The Weir.


Michael Billington (Former Chief Theatre Critic of The Guardian), The 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present

billingdon blog

“Nothing had quite prepared us for The Weir, a play that seems to consist of little except people telling ghost stories in a rural bar but which is filled with McPherson’s Chekhovian gift for the minute particular and his understanding of the Ireland that lies beyond Dublin’s affluent swagger… What is really amazing is his narrative power, his gift for language and his ability to excavate the quiet desperation of the unfulfilled.”


Fintan O’Toole (Former Chief Theatre Critic of The Irish Times), Critical Moments: Fintan O’Toole on Modern Irish Theatre


“About 50 years ago, a journalist asked an old woman in the West of Ireland if she believed in fairies. ‘I do not, sir,’ she replied, ‘but they’re there.’ Conor McPherson’s The Weir which opened last night in the Walter Kerr Theatre after arriving from London’s West End loaded with awards, is about that kind of uncertainty.

The characters don’t really believe in fairies or ghosts or the afterlife. But they can’t shake off the feeling that there’s something there. Critics like to use the word ‘haunting’ to describe plays whose images linger long in the mind long after the stage lights go out. The Weir certainly deserves that description. But it is haunting in a more literal sense. The plays is a series of ghost stories that shade gradually from mere spookiness to awful, heart-rending grief.”


Lyn Gardner, Chief Theatre Critic of The Guardian

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“It’s just people talking,” said Conor McPherson of his 1997 play. But people talking can have you on the edge of your seat in this quietly unassuming and yet emotionally searing play set in a rural Irish pub where a group of lonely male souls gather most nights. But tonight is different, there is an incomer – a Dublin woman, Valerie, who asks for white wine.

When the stories are spun from the men’s lives, they have a competitive edge – but Valerie has a story that can top them all. As Jack, the grumpy, melancholic garage owner, proves in the dying embers of the evening, we are all haunted by different kinds of ghosts.

This is a slow burn of a play, full of toasty banter and tiny moments when the characters unwittingly reveal the depth of their dolefulness. The unexpected presence of a woman highlights the absence of female interaction in these men’s lives. The isolated barman, Brendan, is emotionally estranged from his sisters; the dim handyman, Jim, has a mother who has been fading fast for ever; and although the flash, resented Finbar is married, his wife is yet another ghost in the play.”


Ben Brantley, Chief Theatre Critic of the New York Times

ben brantley

“If a story is told well enough, you’ll follow it anywhere, even when it’s leading you to places you never intended to go. Take the plain-spoken, utterly alluring tales unfolded by the denizens of the rural Irish bar in ”The Weir,” Conor McPherson’s beautiful and devious new play at the Walter Kerr Theater. At first, they seem to beckon like comfortingly well-worn paths into realms of folklore both exotic and familiar, Gaelic variations on the sorts of campfire ghost stories you recall from childhood.

Then a moment arrives, and it’s hard to say exactly when because you’ve shed all sense of time, when you realize that you have strayed into territory that scrapes the soul. Suddenly, the subject isn’t just things that go bump in the night, but the loss and loneliness that eventually haunt every life. There’s a new chill abroad, evoking something more serious than goose flesh, but there is also the thrilling warmth that accompanies the flash of insight.”


Charles Spencer, Former Chief Theatre Critic of The Telegraph


“Conor McPherson’s The Weir seems the most unassuming of plays, just four blokes and a woman telling ghost stories in a lonely pub deep in the Irish countryside. I have no doubt however that The Weir is a modern classic. It can stand comparison with Brian Friel’s masterpiece, Faith Healer, and there can be no higher praise than that.

Though much of the play consists of banter and craic, there is also a sense of the numinous about it, and not just in the ghost stories. You apprehend the sad, thwarted lives of the characters that lurk behind their largely good-natured joshing, and there are sudden glimpses of compassion and grace that are all the more moving for being so understated.

McPherson moves seamlessly from the inconsequential to the profound, and there are two passages towards the end of the play that are among the most beautiful and haunting in modern drama. The first occurs when the female visitor to the area tells her own ghost story which is so upsetting and personal that it has haunted me ever since I first saw the play 15 years ago.

The second describes a simple act of kindness received by one of the characters when he was at his lowest ebb and realised that his chance of happiness had probably been lost forever. As the boozy old Irishman recounts it to the grieving woman it becomes a moment of astonishing dramatic grace and generosity.”

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