There is a tremendous pathos in Conor McPherson’s 2006 play The Seafarer, says
It is something of a coup that Perth Theatre (rather than a larger repertory theatre, such as Glasgow’s Citizens or the Lyceum, Edinburgh) should be staging the Scottish and (along with its co-producer the Lyric, Belfast) Northern Irish premiere of Conor McPherson’s 2006 play The Seafarer. Praise is due to Rachel O’Riordan, artistic director at Perth since 2011, for securing a Caledonian debut which, on this showing, was ludicrously overdue.
Greater plaudits still should go to her for a gorgeously measured production of a play which combines McPherson’s proven talent for theatrical storytelling with a poetic study of Irish male dereliction. The drama is set in the wretched house of Richard – a cantankerous, malodorous and, on account of his declining sight, increasingly dependent old man – and his recently returned, alcoholic brother, Sharky (the titular seafarer). The brothers drink Christmas Eve into Christmas Day with friends old (Ivan and Nicky) and new (the dapper and sinisterly capricious Mr Lockhart).
The production places a subtle emphasis on the physical absence of women, and upon the fact that they are, nevertheless, ever-present, as if they were living in a parallel universe. Never disrespected, women are, rather, feared, and almost venerated by the men.
There is a tremendous pathos in this: Sharky’s drinking cost him his wife and children, who are now living with preposterous wide boy Nicky; the almost equally hapless Ivan assumes, and with good reason, that he is persona non grata in his family’s Christmas. Join this to the bleak comedy in McPherson’s writing (Richard’s on-going war with the winos in the lane is a particular pleasure), and one has the ingredients for a play which – like the writer’s most famous drama, The Weir – insinuates its way into the psyche.
The Seafarer, however, has a more dynamically dramatic dimension. Lockhart (a cleverly cast Benny Young) is not the polite-but-unpredictable business-type he at first seems and the play strays into Faustian territory as he instigates a game of poker for the highest of possible stakes.
Played on Gary McCann’s outrageously detailed set (the perfect visualisation of male degeneration), the production is beautifully performed, with the ever-brilliant Ciaran McIntyre a monstrously hilarious stand-out as Richard.
At Perth Theatre until February 23, then transferring to the Lyric, Belfast, February 28 to March 23.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 11, 2013
© Mark Brown