herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

HAMILTON'S ATMOSPHERIC MYSTERY KEEPS US GUESSING RIGHT UP UNTIL THE END ...

THE MARINER

Peter's head is covered in bandages, but his mother just wants to see his feet. His devoted wife, Sally - a giddy mixture of excitement and nerves - removes her husband's sailor uniform and rattles on about the night they spent at the Imperial Hotel. Alas, he cannot answer her.

Peter (or 'Petey') has returned home from World War I. The Battle of Jutland in the North Sea has left the Cork man battered, bruised and unable to communicate with his loved ones.

His voice will return in due course, but Mrs Shanley is concerned that the man who sits before her is not her son, and it's going to take a lot more than photographic evidence to convince the authorities and, of course, the Royal Navy. If only she could see his feet.

What's worrying Sally, we suspect, is that Peter's pension has been denied (he is said to have absconded the night of his injuries). Sally claims this man is her husband.

According to Mrs Shanley, it takes years to get to know the person you married (good line). Who are we to trust? Hugo Hamilton's new play, inspired by a Royal Navy sailor's log book he found, belonging to his late grandfather, has a lot going for it, combining contemporary theatrical smarts (the action takes place on a cold, steely stage - a confined interrogation room, almost) with classic drama and suspense.

QUARREL

In fact, we might as well be in the bowels of a ship's containment area (Peter's uniform hangs from a chain, like an anchor). At its heart, The Mariner plays out like a warped, mother/daughter-in-law quarrel; unravelling and spiralling towards a peculiar and rather unsettling finale.

It could benefit from additional cast members, and we don't need the drifting monologues to help fill in the blanks - we're quite all right with working this one out for ourselves. True, it is a little unfocused, and somewhat far-fetched, but The Mariner is also an absorbing, atmospheric, and occasionally humorous piece.

Ingrid Craigie is very good as the frenzied, almost frightened Mrs Shanley. Lisa Dwyer Hogg's Sally keeps us guessing, too.

It's supposed to be about the injured sailor, and Sam O'Mahony is perfectly acceptable as the troubled Peter, but we always come back to the enigmatic Sally, thanks to a spirited turn from Hogg.

Things don't quite turn out the way we imagined, but isn't that one of the hallmarks of a decent mystery?

Running until October 25 hhhii

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