The Seafarer

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

Nomad Theatre Network and Decadent Theatre Co present 'The Seafarer' by Conor McPherson.

It is hard not to look at the tawdry sitting room that the Harkin brothers inhabit on the Christmas portrayed in Conor McPherson's The Seafarer without recalling Kierkegaard's definition of despair: “the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair". McPherson's play about a poker game between northside Dublin drunks and a Satanic stranger is on an obvious level highly comical and oddly heartwarming holiday fare, but Decadent & Nomad's joint production prods at a grimness that underlies the cutting banter of these boozy buddies.

The SeafarerLight fills the stage on the morning of Christmas Eve. Sharky (Joe Savino), grumpy for being sober for two days, grumpy for being back in Dublin minding his blind brother, grumpy for making a mess of his life, descends the stairs. He finds Richard (Garrett Keogh) asleep on the floor. A Christmas shrub – calling it a Christmas tree would be a slight against trees – sits above a beer keg. Assorted empties lie scattered about a few religious relics. The brothers are soon joined by their mate Ivan (Frankie McCafferty), who, after spending the previous night sleeping on the floor of their guest room, is half-blind having lost his glasses. These men are a shambles. Ivan and Richard enjoy a breakfast of toast and whiskey as Sharky explains a recent beating he suffered. Were it not Christmas, one wonders what doleful alcoholic circumstances these men would themselves in.

What unfolds is a night of reckoning, brought on by the visit of Nicky (Paul Roe) – the man seeing Sharky's ex and driving his car – and the mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Robert O'Mahoney), who quite bluntly wants Sharky's soul. Though McPherson imagines a hilarious set piece in crafting a card game for Sharky's life, director Andrew Flynn is far for more focussed on the spiritual stakes of Lockhart's visit – the possibility of man to change and redeem himself – than in maximizing the playwright's brilliant comic writing.

In this production, Sharky lives in a total fugue. When Lockhart confronts him about the circumstances of their one previous meeting – in the Bridewell, 25 years before, the night Sharky had killed a vagrant in the back of a pub – he can hardly recall the event and seems almost indifferent to his actions. Sharky has simply buried his sins in some subconscious mire and muddled on with life. Savino's portrayal of him is quite understated. He plays him as a hollowed out man almost beyond salvation. As Lockhart goes into a lofty monologue about the nature of hell, Sharky looks blankly ahead, into a void.

Flynn's direction also seeks to utilise the dramatic potential of the otherwordly Mr. Lockhart. O'Mahoney's arrival on stage struck something of an off-note, as his overly-enunciated theatrical speech jarred awkwardly with rapid-fire Dublinese of the rest of the cast. But O'Mahoney's performance became much stronger in the second act, as his character got drunker. He rocked back and forth in a day chair after a few whiskeys with wicked intent and stretched his long, lithe body along the staircase as he described the difference between heaven and hell, as if a darker spirit was trying to break loose from his human form.

The SeafarerRichard is, of course, the sage counterbalance to Lockhart, a point McPherson makes perhaps too obviously (“You have a holy glow about you,” Lockhart says to the blindman when they first meet.) The most blatant contrast between the two is in their attire, which was well selected by costume designer Petra Bhreathnach. Lockhart dons a resplendent three-piece suit and a beautiful beige overcoat, while Richard wakes up in the same shabby black suit he wore the day previous. Keogh brings much physical humour to his part, walking into walls and waving his walking stick violently in advance of a scrap with some local winos. Richard is no saint – his judgments of his brother are particularly scathing – but he becomes emboldened by Lockhart's presence, especially in the wee hours of the night as he explains a sad dream about being able to see again and his ultimate belief in God's purpose for us all, including Sharky. McCafferty, especially, and Roe are effective playing McPherson's comic foils: two men absconding from family Christmas commitments to drink and play cards.

Decadent and Nomad's production does an excellent job creating the spartan conditions that these men without women inhabit. With sparsely-decorated, almost earthen walls peeling back in places to show cement blocks and a couple of decrepit lounge chairs, Owen MacCarthaigh's set captures the emptiness at the heart of their lives. Adam Fitzsimons' light design does the same quite simply, through the presence of a bare lightbulb that hangs above them.

One does wonder at the end why a figure as ruthless as Lockhart bothers with games of chance when he opts to snatch souls. It is also worth noting that in the last hand of the poker game, fortune does not smile on Sharky, but rather his soul is saved by his brother, with the assistance of Ivan and his suddenly reclaimed vision. It is the kind of filial fidelity that Lockhart envies most, and by the conclusion, we're not left with hope as much as comfort that these brothers have recognised their mutual need for each other. As the laughs subside, it feels like enough.

Donald Mahoney is a writer and journalist based in Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Seafarer by Conor McPherson

31 Oct - 3 Dec, 2011 (on tour)

Produced by Nomad Theatre Network & Decadent Theatre Company
In Town Hall Theatre

Director: Andrew Flynn

Set Design: Own MacCarthaigh

Costume Design: Petra Bhreathnach

Lighting Design: Adam Fitzsimons

Sound Design: Carl Kennedy

With: Garrett Keogh, Joe Savino, Frankie McCafferty, Robert O'Mahoney, Paul Roe