A night at the theatre

Last night was one of my three MTC plays for the year, “The Weir” by Conor McPherson which won an Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1999. Turns out that I inadvertently went during previews, the official season starts tomorrow.  Let’s hope they iron out some of the problems with the play by then. But, first let me tell you about dinner.

We met at Fatto Bar & Cantina – the restaurant space that curves around the river side of Hamer Hall. It’s a great spot for pre Arts Centre dining – not only because they are used to getting ballet/theatre/concert patrons in and out on time, but also because of the great food, pleasant service and the fact they have a happy hour on selected drinks from 5-7pm!

The restaurant, like almost every place in Melbourne, can get noisy when full but not overwhelmingly so. We were lucky last night as the restaurant was half empty, which made for very peaceful dining. The menu is small but offers a wide enough range to satisfy most tastes: a number of starters, 4 pastas, 5 Mains (Secondi) and a few sides. All three of us ordered the same dish – Crab, lemon, chilli & pangratto spaghettini ($27). It was delicious and we accompanied it with an equally yummy side dish of green beans in brown butter, garnished with goats cheese, almonds & caramelised red onion ($11).

As we had plenty of time, and half a glass of wine to finish off, we felt compelled to share a dessert: a buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb granita and spiced crumble sprinkled on top ($15). A light, smooth finish to the meal.

And so on to the play, well fed, in plenty of time. The play was staged in the Fairfax theatre within the Arts Centre, a relatively small space – which suits the essence of the play. However, even this space proved to be too large for this production as the stage, and the set, almost swallowed the actors and their words. We were seated in the last row so perhaps those closer to the stage had a different experience but we found it was often hard to hear what the actors were saying.

“The Weir” takes place in a small, cosy pub somewhere in County Ireland, with most of the action happening in the front bar. The actor playing the pub’s owner seemed almost lost behind the bar, lacking presence – at least from our vantage point in Row J.  And, at one stage the actors moved into the lounge area behind the bar, where both they and their voices disappeared from view & hearing.  I couldn’t help thinking how much better the play would have been if had been staged in a more intimate setting, such as the Red Stitch theatre space.

We first meet the young pub owner (Brendan) and two of his faithful old regulars (Jack & Jim), who are shooting the breeze generally and then gossiping about the young woman who has just moved to the village and is being shown around by Finbar, who seems to be a source of some envy for Jack.  Finbar arrives at the pub with the young woman, Valerie, in tow. The play is based in the Irish tradition of story telling. In this case the tales are ghost stories that ultimately hold an unforeseen resonance for the young woman the men are trying to impress.

Whilst entertaining enough I was left feeling so……..  What was the point? The MTC blurb talks about “this gem of a play brings together the great Irish tradition of bar room tales and the theatrical power of story telling.” Perhaps that was the issue for me – the play, or at least this production of it, lacked power. The actors did not seem to own the stage, or the story – and I blame this partly on the space itself and the set. And, why is it called The Weir? A weir is briefly mentioned when they are looking at photos in the back room of the pub, but I couldn’t hear them well enough to grasp if there was any relevance to the storyline (unless the pub is called The Weir?).

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