Natalie Radmall-Quirke considers Valerie – the part she plays in The Weir – to be one of the great modern heroines of Irish literature.
“It is a very iconic role,” says Natalie, who plays Chichester’s Minerva Theatre in Conor McPherson’s play (January 30-February 3).
“I saw my first Weir on the Irish stage about ten years ago, and I remember thinking ‘What a part!’”
She saw on the internet that the part was coming up – and went for it.
In a small Irish town, the locals exchange stories round the crackling fire of Brendan’s pub to while away the hours one stormy night.
As the beer and whisky flow, the arrival of a young stranger (Natalie), haunted by a secret from her past, turns the tales of folklore into something more unsettling. One story, however, is more chilling and more real than any of them could have ever imagined…
“I think part of the reason why the play has endured is that it has captured a moment in time,” Natalie says. “It was written in 1997 and it has to be set in 1997.
““So much has changed since then that it just wouldn’t make sense.
“This was before mobile phones. You have got these people in this pub in the middle of nowhere, and the only connection that is possible for them is with each other.
“And yet they are all isolated… and all isolated in different ways. It is set in the most lonely part of Ireland, but each of the characters is also isolated in themselves, in their stories and in their own truths.
“Newly arrived in the area is this woman that I am playing, this woman in her 30s from Dublin, and it is unusual that she is on her own. I don’t even have to do the accent. I am from Dublin and in my 30s, but for them, she couldn’t possibly be more exotic. She is as exotic as a peacock when she walks in, and for each of them she represents various threats, various different things. Even before she arrives there are rumblings between them.
“She doesn’t know any of them. She has moved there on her own and she is as mysterious and as exotic as she could possibly be. She doesn’t really tell them anything about herself until the night draws on and the drinks flow and the men start to tell stories. As the stories get darker so Valerie tells her own story… which I won’t reveal. But it is the reason she has moved there…”
The intimacy of it all is key: “We do a post-show discussion every Thursday, and the thing that comes up all the time is that the audience feel like they are in the pub with us, which is really great as far as we are concerned. That is what we want them to feel.”
The production toured to seven or eight different venues before Christmas and was then given the option of a week’s re-rehearsal mid-January before setting out on tour again for 2018.
All the cast jumped at the chance of working on it again before returning to performance – a great chance to look at it all in detail again before heading off for the tour’s subsequent dates including Chichester.
For the cast, it is all about immersing themselves in the richness and beauty of the text.
“It is written so beautifully that the best thing we can do as actors is to try to step out of the way of the writing, to try to have the humility not to get in the way of it.
“It is about allowing the language to speak for itself and not trying to impose yourself on it. Simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve, but that is what we are trying to do.”
See also interview with co-star Sean - https://www.chichester.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-and-comedy/sean-delights-in-the-weir-1-8337972