Directed and written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson making his National Theatre debut here, The Seafarer is not normally the type of play I would go and see, but the offer of a spare ticket and a few gin and tonics won me over to making a wee trip to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre before heading home for Christmas.
Aptly, the play is set on Christmas Eve in an anodyne suburb somewhere north of Dublin and focusing on the return of Sharkey, an alcoholic recently returned to live with (and look after) Richard, his suffering older brother who went blind after a drunken incident with a skip. Two of Richard’s hard-drinking buddies drop by for a game of poker, bringing with them the temptation of drinking and unhappy memories as one of them is now shacked up with Sharkey’s wife. They also bring the mysterious Mr Lockhart with them whose presence poses an altogether different challenge.
McPherson’s writing is sheer genius here, deceptively simple and comedic but overlaid with an acuity to cuts right to the heart of the middle-aged Irish man and what makes him tick. Which is namely the booze, as we come to discover the bitterness and frustration of all these men as anecdote after anecdote layers these characters up with beautiful precision.
But on top of that is the relationship of Sharkey and Lockhart, the latter of whom turns out to be the devil in something of a twist which still feels more of a natural progression than anything. And in this battle, Karl Johnson’s down-trodden Sharkey plays beautifully against Ron Cook’s enigmatic Mephistophelian figure, both impressing as the stakes of the game of poker turn out to be Sharkey’s very soul. I really enjoyed Conleth Hill’s performance as one of the friends too, no-one in the cast really disappointed in the end.
I think I enjoy plays more when my expectations are practically non-existent as they were here, indeed I didn’t know I was going until a few hours beforehand and resultantly I was most pleasantly surprised to see that McPherson really is a playwright to keep an eye out for and that it can be most illuminating in stretching one’s theatregoing beyond what one normally picks.