Review: The Weir

THEATRE
Donmar Warehouse | By Alex Dymoke
Five Stars

JOSIE Rourke’s take on Conor McPherson’s The Weir is a near perfect production of a near perfect play. Beery fractiousness turns to teary confessionalism as four old friends and one newcomer converse in a cosy pub in rural Ireland. The characters bicker, snipe and almost come to blows, but there is a deep-rooted affection between them that glows warm like the peat-stove burning in the middle of the set.

Barman Brendan (Peter McDonald) and regulars Jack (Brian Cox) and Jim (Ardal O’Hanlon) await the arrival of Finbar (Risteárd Cooper), the local boy done good. They mock him in his absence and don’t stop when he arrives with a woman (Dervla Kirwan) on his arm. She is from the city, and soon the four men are trying to impress her with spurious ghost stories about the local area. “It’s just a load of cod,” they reassure her, but still they take it in turns ratchet up the spookiness. When she responds with a ghost story of her own, they finally fall silent. Well, almost.

Brian Cox is magisterial as Jack, the cantankerous old bachelor who props up the bar, pouring out “small ones” that get progressively less small as the night goes on. His broad, weatherbeaten face tells of decades of drinking and regret, as does his whiskey-soaked, tobacco-smoked voice.

In one breath-taking moment of candour he reveals his biggest regret – a catastrophic failure to break out. As the play goes on, it becomes clear that the actual irrational fear is of the outside world. Their little well-worn segment of obscure Irish countryside is a sanctuary and a prison. In a world so unchanging, threats must be invented. The characters’ flusteredness at being intruded upon is performed with beautiful understatement. O’Hanlon’s Jim is simple and well meaning but quietly perceptive. Kirwan is also brilliant, her nervous laughter gently hinting at the greater sadness with which she is preoccupied.

The Weir is an elegiac hymn to storytelling, community and alcohol. At just over 100 minutes, last orders comes too soon.

FILM
IRON MAN 3
Cert 12a | By Alex Dymoke
Four Stars

LET’S face it, international terrorists aren’t brought to justice by men flying about in anthropomorphic crime-fighting suits. In the 21st century, the guardians of civil society are vitamin-d deficient geeks poring over intelligence data in GCHQ.

There will forever be something silly about esteemed public figures like the mayor of New York calling for lycra-clad superhero in a moment of national crisis. Iron Man 3, like the other films in the Marvel franchise, embraces the silliness. It is flecked with a deadpan humour that compliments the preposterousness of flying around California in an steel-reinforced fancy dress costume. The Dark Knight films seem absurdly serious and overblown in comparison.

Robert Downey Jr is on great sardonic form once again as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, but it’s Ben Kingsley who steals the show. It’s hard to describe without giving too much away but his turn as super-terrorist the Mandarin is at first terrifying and then terrifically funny. Look out for a joke about a south London borough that sent the entire screening into raptures. There’s also a fleeting glimpse of Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and a running gag about Downton Abbey. Director Shane Black excels at these irreverent comic asides. He is less assured when it comes to spectacular CGI action sequences. The two big set-pieces are too prolonged and disorientating. It’s still immensely enjoyable, though – a triumphant return for Tony Stark.

FILM
BERNIE
Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen
Four Stars

BERNIE is being touted as a breakthrough role for Jack Black; his arrival as a serious actor (the equivalent of Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk, although the comparison flatters Sandler).

It is a comedy, of sorts, although it about as dark as it gets, telling the true story behind the murder of a rich widow by her younger funeral director companion (Black). It is shot in the style of a docudrama, with talking-head locals gossiping about the much-loved Bernie and his despised victim.

Black keeps a lid on his more boisterous tendencies, playing it largely straight as the gentle, ever-so-slightly creepy Bernie Tiede.

Matthew McConaughey, though, provides the stand-out performance as an ambitious red-neck district attorney determined to nail Tiede by hook or by crook. It’s a slow burner but one that’s worth the wait.

FILM
THE LOOK OF LOVE
Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen
Two Stars

THE prospect of Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan hooking up again was a tantalising one. Criminally underrated mini-series The Trip is up there with Coogan’s best work and 24 Hour Party People... Well, that was just brilliant. It’s a shame, then, that The Look of Love is a tired, messy mish-mash of saucy, Blackpool-postcard softcore pornography, celebrity cameos and rose-tinted melodrama.

Coogan plays the “King of Soho” Paul Raymond, the strip-tease baron whose extravagant life somehow lifted him to the top of the Sunday Times Rich List. There are more than a few parallels with Coogan’s take on Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People. Both take lots of coke, sleep with as many women as they can and have a tendency to directly address the camera. Part of the problem is that Raymond is just plain unlikable, even in this glossy version of his life.

That’s not the film’s only failing though. The cultural markers feel lazy: the 60s are all psychedelica, the 80s are heralded by Soft Cell coming on the stereo. It’s all surface – and when things eventually come crashing down for Raymond, it is hard to care.

THEATRE
OTHELLO
Olivier Theatre | By Steve Dinneen
Four Stars

WE meet Iago, the real star of Othello, standing outside what looks like a Wetherspoon’s pub, casually sipping a pint of bitter as he sows his malicious seeds over a rather too wet behind the ears Roderigo. Rory Kinnear’s Iago is weedy, balding, almost unassuming – but simmers with a quietly terrifying malevolence. From the get-go, his face was bugging me – it was familiar but I couldn’t quite place it...

With a total running time of over three hours, the first act of director Nicholas Hytner’s production feels glacially slow at times, a brilliantly tense and laugh-out-loud funny scene in the Venetian war-room excepted.

Adrian Lester takes a while to get into the swing of things in the title role. He’s a powerful Othello – physically intimidating in his tight-fitting military fatigues – and he seems a little lost discussing his fairytale romance with Desdemona.

The second half, though, is ceaselessly thrilling. The set morphs into a modern-day military base that looks like it could be in Iraq or Afghanistan. Lester does the rage part of Othello brilliantly. People are thrown against walls, tables are upended. He’s a force of nature and you can well believe him smothering the life out of poor old Desdemona.

It is Kinnear, though, who you can’t take your eyes off. He makes Iago’s far-fetched scheme seem plausible: I almost believed his aspersions on the honour of the fair lady. At some point during the final act, I finally remembered why Kinnear’s face was so familiar – the last time I saw him, he was being forced to “make love” to a pig on live TV in Chanel 4’s Black Mirror. That his Iago is even more grotesque is testament to the strength of his performance.