THEATRE REVIEW: The Seafarer @ Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Sharky (Louis Dempsey) and Richard (Ciaran McIntyre) are brothers living in a kind of amicable bondage; Richard is blind and more than slightly alcoholic, and so Sharky does all the chores and fetches endless neat glasses of Paddy Powers for his brother, who never misses an opportunity to affectionately curse him. Sharky is now living an abstemious lifestyle and does his best to display endless patience towards his demanding and bantering brother, rendered here with superb warmth and comic timing by Ciaran McIntyre.
Their mate Ivan (Sean O’Callaghan) - a relentlessly affable presence - arrives to join the festive drinking session, before another acquaintance, Tony (Nicky Giblin) arrives with the mysterious Mr Lockhart (Benny Young) for a late night game of poker.
Mr Lockhart is subtle and very well dressed, with arched, menacing eyebrows and unnerving omniscience: he knows the secrets of Sharky’s past. As it turns out, he is the Devil himself, intent on stealing Sharky’s soul if he loses at poker, apt at moving between time zones and allergic to the beauty of music. This arch nemesis maintains that he arranged for Sharky to be set free from jail many years ago, and so he owes a hideous debt to the underworld; the intricacies of why this is or why the Evil One in human form should have any interest in Sharky’s soul are never fully explained. Some kind of Faustian deal has been made and for Sharky the stakes couldn’t be higher.
This darkly funny piece written by Conor McPherson has real charm and is brilliantly directed by Rachel O’Riordan, currently artistic director of the Perth Theatre in Scotland. It’s strength is its careful blend of humour with darkness and the easy, committed acting of all five cast members. Not a great deal happens and the central mysterious exchange between Mr Lockhart and Sharky could have been more fully examined - but this would perhaps have limited the power of the enigma; the unanswered questions in many ways augment the potency of the scenario and give it the charge of the unknown, infusing it with a sense of magic and wonder.
This is a haunting piece of theatre that retains poetry in its imagining of darkness unravelling behind the banter and easy whimsy. McPherson deserves credit for handling the supernatural with such finesse, restraint and clever stagecraft.
:: The Seafarer runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until March 23. Visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 02890 381081.