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Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, the acclaimed play arrives in Melbourne with its wicked Irish doom-and-gloom charm – just in time for the wintriest months

fortyfivedownstairs has been experiencing some luck of the Irish recently, with the triumph of Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy followed hard upon by this flinty play by Conor McPherson. While not quite in the same league as McDonagh, The Seafarer still puts forward a convincing argument for the current strength of Irish playwriting.

The play opens on Christmas Eve and James ‘Sharky’ Harkin [Barry Mitchell] is two days into his sobriety, a tough gig given he is staying with his alcoholic brother Richard [Geoff Hickey] in a house that is constantly set upon by drunken mates. One of them, Ivan [Adam Rafferty], is already there, having slept on the bathroom floor after a massive drinking session the night before.

When local boy Nicky [David Passmore] brings the mysterious and unnerving stranger Mr Lockhart [Michael Cahill] into the house for a friendly game of cards, things take a disturbing metaphysical turn, and Sharky finds himself playing for the highest stakes possible: his own soul’s redemption.

Director Wayne Pearn has approached the play as a largely naturalistic treatise on alcoholic co-dependence and private guilt, nodding gently to the Faustian surrealism of Mr Lockhart without upsetting the ostensible realism of the rest. It’s the right approach, emphasising the characters’ humanity and energy over the simplifications of allegory.

The cast is also largely effective, although some are more convincing than others. Hickey is excellent as the blind and placating Richard, and Cahill is a sonorous and dominating Lockhart. Passmore is spectacular as the flaky but enthusiastic Nicky, constantly buzzing with nervous energy, his over-determined bonhomie masking a desperation that threatens to explode throughout.

The play sometimes comes across as Pinter without pauses, and could probably have benefitted from a more frenetic playing style. There are occasional longuers and flat spots, and it’s a play that needs to keep its audience on edge if it’s to retain its suspense.

The set [George Tranter] and lighting [Stelios Karagiannis] are both fine, although the sound design [Lindon Blakey] could have been more adventurous. One particular moment involving the playing of a CD is woefully ineffective due to the sound levels, something that should have been easy to perfect.

Hoy Polloy have done a good job with this unusual play, and it is certainly worth seeing. The culture of binge drinking and the repressive nature of mateship are relevant themes in an Australian context, even if the quasi-religious overtones are less resonant. It’s very funny, and impressively tense once that apocryphal card game gets underway.

Read Andrew Fuhrmann's interview with Hoy Polloy Theatre director Wayne Pearn

It's Christmas Eve in a rundown flat somewhere north of Dublin. There is plenty of drink, plenty of talk, and a rowdy game of poker. What are the stakes? The soul of James "Sharky" Harkin. Hoy Polloy Theatre present the much-anticipated Victorian premiere of Conor McPherson's 2006 award-winning whiskey-and-the-devil romp. Time Out spoke with company director Wayne Pearn.

Hi Wayne, tell us about The Seafarer. Is it a morality tale, a supernatural thriller, or a celebration of yarn-spinning and Irish blarney?
First up, I reckon it’s a really intimate observation of male dereliction. But it's also about the need for darkness in our lives, so we are able to grasp the light, hope, opportunity and truth.

Hoy Polloy also presented McPherson's Shining City back in 2007. What's the attraction of McPherson's work?
I’ve read all his plays and, it must be said, the plays of many other Irish playwrights as well. I’m just fascinated by the way they tell a story.

This is the first Hoy Polloy show in almost two years. Why the hiatus?
We’ve all been really busy on other projects. I’ve been treading the boards again as well as directing for other companies which I’ve enjoyed immensely. While it’s been great for us to go ‘solo’ for a bit it’s really energising to get the band back together.

What are some of the challenges running independent theatre company in Melbourne?
Gee, where do I start! The usual suspects: affordable venues and rehearsal spaces, funding, production costs, getting bums on seats... and then, after all that, hoping there are a few bucks left over for all involved. I reckon we’ve made a pretty good fist of it, but we've been at it for a while, so we’ve had plenty of experience in identifying what works and what doesn’t.

By Tim Byrne   |   Photos by Fred Kroh

The Seafarer details

45 Flinders Ln, Melbourne 3000

Telephone 03 9662 9966

Nearby Stations: Flinders St

Price $30.00 to $38.00

Date 05 Aug 2014-10 Aug 2014

Open Tue-Sat 8pm; Sun 3pm

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