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Teaming up for a modern classic; The Sherman Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres have embarked on their first coproduction with a play called The Weir. Rachel Mainwaring found out more.

SET in a remote bar in rural Ireland, Conor McPherson's play The Weir sees four friends and one stranger find solace in sharing stories ranging from the heartwarmingly humorous to the darkly confessional.

A renowned contemporary classic, The Weir has won numerous awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play of 1997-98, as well as McPherson's Critics' Circle Award and Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright in 1998.

The cast includes Steven Elliott, Richard Clements, Orla Fitzgerald, Simon Wolfe and Patrick Moy, and is directed by Rachel O'Riordon.

O'Riordan, artistic director of Cardiff's Sherman Theatre, has received widespread critical acclaim for her recent productions of Bird and Iphigenia in Splott.

She said: "The co-producing partnership between the Sherman Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres was an idea developed by myself and the ex-director of Tobacco Factory Theatres, Ali Robertson. We felt that the theatres had much to offer each other in terms of sharing resources and developing ways to share our work more widely.

"Geographically it made sense, but also there is a shared sensibility between the two theatres - inclusive, energetic and collaborative in spirit. When I was artistic director for Perth, I directed The Seafarer in partnership with the Lyric in Belfast and just loved working on the writer Conor McPherson's text. He's an extraordinarily precise writer, utterly truthful in his connection with human behaviour, and I really respond to his work.

"Also, in the centenary of the Easter Rising, I wanted to put a great play by an Irish writer on the stage, and a play which, to me, is really about an Ireland in flux. Written in 1997, just before the 'Celtic Tiger' kicked off, The Weir is about a liminal place between old and new Ireland. So for this reason, too, it felt right."

She thinks truth and vulnerability make a good story but the play also has fairy roads and folklore.

"In Ireland we are, I think, quite used to accepting a kind of duality - while we may be a secular country in the main now, we do have a superstitious quality. I think Irish people, or people who grew up in Ireland, in my generation certainly, grew up around an acceptance of the Other; not necessarily religion, though that's part of it sometimes. It's only when you leave that you realise not everyone has it! It's kind of pagan. Hard to explain. But it's there.

"The cast are a really wonderful, hugely talented ensemble with a massive amount of heart. I like working with bold, brave actors. This company is extraordinary."

So why should the audience be excited about this piece? "Conor McPherson is an extraordinary writer, whose work is layered, complex and brilliantly humane. The Weir is one of the great contemporary plays, which moves between the earthly and the supernatural, between ancient and modern. It is a play steeped in sadness, but which illuminates, too, the power of community, friendship and love. It speaks of hope, in the darkest of hours. McPherson has the rare ability to capture how unpredictable, flawed and strange people really are. It is this which makes him so accessible and exciting."

The co-production is running at the Sherman Theatre until Saturday, October 22, before heading to Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bristol. Tickets can be booked online at or at The new production of The Weir and, below, Rachel O'Riordan in rehearsals
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:8PAPU
Date:Oct 8, 2016
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