It’s Christmas Eve and Sharky has returned home to care for his elder brother Richard, who has recently been afflicted by blindness – he fell into a skip on Halloween and hit his head. As circumstance works its magic, a pair of the brothers’ other friends find themselves drawn to Richard’s house for a festive game of cards. This year, the stakes are higher than ever before. Matthew Amer attended the press night of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer at the National’s Cottesloe theatre.
McPherson’s first new play to be staged at the National theatre switches between comedy and tension before the audience has even noticed it. One minute you’re laughing, the next you realise the audience is in complete silence. All this without leaving the bedraggled living room of Richard Harkin; worn armchairs, faded rugs, mix-and-match lino, and a selection of empty bottles and cans; the detritus of previous nights of revelry.
Banded together here on Christmas Eve is a collection of reprobates and drinking buddies: Richard (Jim Norton), the dominant, domineering, bath-fearing, blind, drunk elder brother who uses his disability to get what he wants; Sharky (Karl Johnson), the put-upon, downtrodden, haunted younger brother who just wants the best for his elder sibling; Ivan (Conleth Hill), the often bemused, exceptionally unexceptional permanent visitor, whose exploits do not impress his wife; and Nicky (Michael McElhatton), the cheesemonger with delusions of grandeur who has taken what once was Sharky’s. But Nicky also brings a stranger with him straight out of a film noir, the mysterious, trilby and trench coat wearing Mr Lockhart (Ron Cook).
McPherson’s tale of Christmas fear and forgiveness bristles with the normal. The four friends, all dealt bad hands by fate, chat as anyone would about life, Christmas, past misdemeanours and drink. The speech is rife with colloquialisms that set the action firmly in Ireland, and the banter and one-liners from every member of the faultless cast kept a smile on the first night audience’s face. That is apart from when Cook’s Lockhart launched into his ominous best; hate, power and ferociousness dripping from his pores.
To say any more would be to spoil the reinvention and reinvigoration of a spooky tale told around a well-stoked fire.