There is no hiding place in the set decoration for The Mariner. The action occurs on a naked stage with a sole chair, an old portrait and a change of clothes suspended from the ceiling. The stage resembles the hold of a ship, conferring it with a cold look. The three actors remain on stage at all times, turning their backs to the audience when they are not involved in the action.
Peter Shanley (Sam O’Mahony), a Royal Navy sailor, is sent home after the World War 1 Battle of Jutland in the North Sea. He carries a letter in which very little is explained about the circumstances for being discharged. He is unable to speak and his head is covered in bandages. The state he is in causes two very disparate reactions in his wife, Sally; and his mum, Mrs. Shanley. It’s as if he was two different men. Sally (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) is happy to see her husband again, who she barely got to know before his enlistment. Mrs. Shanley (Ingrid Craigie) is convinced the sailor is not her son and constantly looks for proof of the intruder's identity.
The tension builds throughout the play around the figure of the sailor, whose uncertain identity creates a conflict between two members of his family. And also, what we could consider the symbols of two generations: one who calls for freedom in the year of the Easter Rising; the other who is in favour of the Empire.
The mariner regains his ability to speak in the course of the play, a progress that reveals the splendid text by Hugo Hamilton. Words are the only protective shield left to the actors. The words that intensify the conflict and make the audience uneasy with a question: who is this man interrupting Sally and Mrs. Shanley’s life?
Sally is a loving wife who sweetly undresses her husband and helps him to become the man she once knew. She tries to make him remember and infuses the scene with passion, tender feelings and caring gestures. The couple’s swing on stage represents all of this, and a memory of their time together as husband and wife before his departure. She personifies the hope for the new, for change, for better things to come.
Mrs. Shanley is obsessed, needs reassurance about her son’s identity and seems almost inclined to believe anything but that Peter has returned home safe and sound. She holds ont0 the old ways and would prefer if no change would occur at the end of her life.
Dwyer Hogg holds a significant weight in the performance. She is convinced the sailor is Peter and happily welcomes the love of her life, gone for a long time. Craigie answers this situation with distrust and anger that she directs to that man whom she doesn’t believe to be her son. As the story moves forward, the mariner becomes a civilian and finds again his own voice, which inevitably will result in one of the other characters to be expelled from the scene.
A hidden picture of the Royal Navy sailor found by Hugo Hamilton as a child, of who he thought it was his dad’s father (The Speckled People, 2003) inspires a compelling story about what war does to men, and what comes back from it.
The sounds of a town, of the harbour and a few minimalistic piano pieces complete this atmospheric play. A piece invaded by a claustrophobic feeling despite being performed on a stage populated just by words.