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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Seafarer
Cottesloe Theatre Autumn 2006

In The Seafarer, playwright Conor McPherson returns to the image of the supernatural invading the most mundane of settings that generated his biggest success, The Weir. This time around, despite a few chilling moments and strong performances throughout, the frisson isn't quite as strong nor the poetic vision quite as evocative.

There is no sea in the play - the title suggests an eternal wanderer - but rather the Irish village home of a pair of brothers. Recently blinded by an accident, Richard depends on his younger brother Sharky, a for-the-moment recovering alcoholic.

On Christmas Eve they're visited by two friends, the accident-prone Ivan and Nicky, currently living with Sharky's ex-wife. A stranger picked up by the visitors, the smooth-talking Mr. Lockhart, is welcomed to the party and the poker game that follows.

In a moment alone, Mr. Lockhart reveals himself to Sharky as a figure of demonic proportions, here to collect on an old debt whose traditional high payment has come due, Sharky's eternal fate to depend on the outcome of the poker game.

And so, for the rest of the play we watch the solidly realistic process of men drinking, gambling, teasing, taking offence and being calmed, and drinking some more, while knowing that for two of the party the stakes are much higher.

The situation has a strong tension and eerieness to it, but it doesn't quite tip over into the ghost story power of The Weir, perhaps because what should be the background - the other men's drinking and card playing - is captured more fully and entertainingly than the mainly silent duel of nerves between Sharky and Lockhart.

That may be a slip by Conor McPherson either as writer or as his own director, though I hasten to say it doesn't ruin the play, just keeps it from being more successful than it is.

Certainly the cast of familiar character actors can't be faulted, and one of the undoubted pleasures of The Seafarer is watching performers you've seen dozens of times before inhabit their characters with such ease and mastery.

Jim Norton's irascible Richard, Karl Johnson's trying-to-cope-when-not-at-full-steam Sharky and Ron Cook's oily Lockhart are ably supported by Conleth Hill's half-comic Ivan and Michael McElhatton's amiable Nicky.

 Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Seafarer - National 2006