I don’t think it’s a secret that I am partial to Irish plays but I only discovered Conor McPherson’s work a few years back after watching ‘Shining City’ at Griffin. Since then I’ve devoured many of his plays and was really looking forward to seeing this show, one of his more ‘upbeat’ plays, if you can believe Irish theatre has such a thing.
McPherson, like many of his Irish contemporary counterparts love a twist and a turn and a tilt and just when you think you’ve figured it out, another tilt for good measure. ‘The Seafarer’ tells the story of two brothers, irascible Richard (recently blind after falling into a skip…) and Sharky (his reluctant carer whose own life is in tatters). The brothers are ‘celebrating’ Christmas Eve with a poker game with old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky and a stranger from Sharky’s past, Mr Lockhart who’s back to collect his own debts. If you can imagine a boys own adventure, combined with elements of farce, folk tales, a bit of mythology and the supernatural, all set in the mess of the cold sitting room long neglected, you’re on the way to picturing ‘The Seafarer’.
O’Punksky’s Theatre Company are an independent theatre group well-known for their staging of Irish plays that showcase their skill and passion and celebrates the camaraderie of this very talented bunch of actors. If ever there was a reason to support Independent Theatre, O’Punksky’s give you a wealth of reasons. And ‘The Seafarer’ is one of those reasons.
I’m going straight to the cast because it is the ensemble nature of the performance that most strikes you about this production. These guys are having fun, relishing running into lamps, blindly hitting the staircase, savouring the shifts in power, the language, the drinking and even the crusty bits of toast clinging onto their jumpers. As an audience member, when you see a cast inside the play and the characters, having fun with each moment, you can’t help but enjoy it too.
Director Maeliosa Stafford, who also stars as Richard, talks in the program about the difficulty of “directing from the inside”. And it would have been a challenge- I’ve yet to see anyone really master it. I think that it’s almost impossible to have your eyes completely on the play when you’re in it and if I had one criticism of the show it would be that the rhythm sometimes lagged and it needed a kick in pace in moments (and this is backed up by a program that promises a 2 hours and 10 minute show with a 20 minute interval and ends up taking 2 hours and 45 minutes). I think a full-time director in this regard would have probably tightened the show.
However, Stafford’s Richard was marvellous. He’s the sort of character you want to embrace and slap at the same time. There is something wise or insightful about Richard in the glimpses of lucidity he enjoys between his barking commands and alcohol induced intentions. Stafford captures this beautifully, in language, physicality and personality. The ability to play ‘blind’ is incredibly hard, to keep focus and energy in this role but Stafford never faltered. His comic skills were some of the best I’ve seen and I would think that this will probably be one of Stafford’s favourite roles to play in his extensive career.
Patrick Dickson as Sharky is stuck in the straight role for most of the play and this can present its own challenges- always the martyr and never the master. But Dickson played the conflict and hopes of Sharky with belief and gave freely to the ensemble for them to use his character as a springboard for their own characters to jump off and swim in the pool of comedy.
And then my favourite character, Ivan, hopeless but dependable, played with such humour by Patrick Connolly, was such a treat in this show. It’s hard to believe Connolly only graduated from acting school 5 years ago because he tackled this like a seasoned professional. The rest of the cast could have been dancing naked around that stage when Connolly’s Ivan was buttering that toast with such intensity that I couldn’t have focused on anything but his actions. And he had plenty of them. Gorgeous work and perfectly cast.
John O’Hare bounced on stage as Nicky and brought a slickness to that role that I hadn’t imagined when reading it. In the play he is described as ‘a skinny, nervy appearance…wearing a tatty-looking anorak and threadbare grey slacks that are slightly too short for him, revealing white towelling sport socks..’ but costume designer, Alison Bradshaw’s choice to make him a little more kept and an edge of sleazy in his leather jacket and jeans I think worked really well and served as a contrast to Sharky, especially as both men care for the same woman. O’Hare finds the dimensions of naivety and ambition of Nicky, making him a cross between a player who hasn’t mastered the game (of life and poker) but always thinks he will. O’Hare is infinitely watchable and the energy he brings to Nicky and the scene changes the whole feel of the stage. He is a generous performer.
And that brings me to William Zappa. Anyone familiar with Zappa’s work will know he is a fabulous actor. I will never forget his outstanding work in Albee’s ‘The Goat or Who is Sylvia?’ Zappa gets to have real fun in this play and he clearly enjoys each moment. He gets the joy of being the catalyst of change for many of the others on stage and shuffles those stakes with the professionalism we have come to expect from him as a performer.
I don’t often spend reviews giving intricate details of each cast member (but it is easier with a cast of just five). But I do it for ‘The Seafarer’ here because what was obvious was the generosity of its ensemble to let every actor take their moment, to serve the play and not the actor and the respect these guys have for each other is obvious. And that’s the beauty of Independent Theatre at its best- you get to enjoy the collaboration of a team you can put together yourself, who all want the same things and all feel they have ownership in the final product.
So a few technical thumbs up to finish: what a great set, designed by Amamda McNamara and painstakingly constructed by members of the cast and any friends they could convince to come and help them; Nate Edmondson’s sound design of the blaring storm happening outside (and inside) the house, complemented by Tony Youlden’s lighting design.
Honestly, this show won’t disappoint. It’s probably a little longer than it needs to be but the integrity of what’s happening on stage will keep you engaged.
Go and support some great indie theatre and do yourself a favour.