Louis Dempsey talks to Frankly My Dear UK about his role as Finbar in THE WEIR

Louis Dempsey as Finbar in THE WEIR UK Tour

Louis Dempsey talks to Frankly My Dear UK about his role as Finbar in THE WEIR

It’s hard to believe that Conor McPherson’s award-winning play THE WEIR is over 20 years old. Before it took the theatre world by storm, THE WEIR was booked to play for just three weeks to an audience of 60 people a night when it first opened at The Royal Court in 1997. Thanks to its success, a transfer to the West End followed, along with a successful Broadway production in 1999 and numerous awards along the way, including an Olivier Award for Best New Play.

To mark the 20th anniversary of THE WEIR, English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester take McPherson’s chilling, modern classic on tour around the UK. The play features an all Irish cast including Louis Dempsey as Finbar whose previous theatre credits include STONES IN HIS POCKETS (Vienna’s English Theatre), THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Shakespeare’s Globe), JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK (Liverpool Everyman/Bristol Old Vic Co-Production) and McPherson’s 2006 play THE SEAFARER (Perth Theatre and Lyric Belfast).

Ahead of its run at Salford’s The Lowry, Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK caught up with Dempsey to talk about his role as Finbar and why THE WEIR continues to captivate audiences across the world.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): For those who aren’t familiar with THE WEIR, how would you describe the play?

Louis Dempsey (LD): THE WEIR is set in a small pub in rural Ireland in the mid-90s. The owner and his two best customers await the arrival of a stranger from Dublin who has bought a house in the area. The stranger is a young woman. She is accompanied by another local, a successful businessman who is keen for her to be accepted by the people of the village. It is apparent from the start that something unusual is about to take place on this blustery night. Long running disputes are revived, attitudes are questioned and stories are told which will change things forever…

FMD: Were you familiar with the play and what it was about when you were first approached about doing the production?

LD: I had heard of THE WEIR and had in fact appeared in a production of one of Conor McPherson’s other plays, THE SEAFARER. I had never seen a production of THE WEIR but the play’s reputation was widespread.

FMD: How would you describe your character Finbar and his role within the play?

LD: Finbar is the epitome of what was once referred to as “The Celtic Tiger”. Though born and bred in the heart of the countryside, Finbar Mack sees himself as a cut above his peers. He is a businessman and a wealthy landowner, brash, insensitive and abrasive though with a slick easy charm that he believes people enjoy. Finbar introduces Valerie to the others in the pub and wants her to feel welcome in her new home. He desperately wants to impress upon Valerie how different he is from the others in every way possible.

FMD: What drew you to the role?

LD: I am drawn to characters that are, on the surface at least, quite unlikable. Finbar is rude, patronising and abrasive. People such as Finbar use this rudeness to hide behind. They are almost always afraid. I like to play characters whom the audience may never grow to like but who eventually come to understand.

FMD: Since its premiere in 1997, THE WEIR has become hugely successful. What is it about the story that seems to capture the audience’s hearts and imagination?

LD: I suspect the success of THE WEIR is because it is a purely theatrical experience. A group of strangers gather in a place of hospitality to hear stories. One could easily be describing a theatre audience as well as the play. Conor Mc Pherson asks questions about love, loss, loneliness and, perhaps most importantly, the unknown. THE WEIR gathers us together to ask these questions and that, I believe, is why audiences react so positively to the play.

FMD: Do you have any personal stories of a supernatural kind that are comparable to the sort of thing we hear in the play?

LD: I do have stories that are comparable to the stories in the play but the explanation would be too long to go into here. Let’s just say that I am content in the knowledge that the world exists beyond the merely physical and the clearly visible.

FMD: What have you enjoyed the most about working on THE WEIR?

LD: Best thing about working on THE WEIR? The whole production team. EVERYONE! Cast, crew, production, the lot. A real joy and a privilege.

FMD: How is the 20th anniversary production of THE WEIR bringing something new to the modern classic?

LD: What can audiences expect from this production? This production of THE WEIR is the best story you are going to hear all year. No doubt.

Conor McPherson’s THE WEIR is on tour across the UK and comes to The Lowry from Tuesday 23 to Saturday 27 January 2018.