Review: The Mariner

Hugo Hamilton’s nuanced first World War drama looks at the family fallout after the return of an injured sailor

Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Sam O’Mahony. Photograph: Pat Redmond

Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Sam O’Mahony. Photograph: Pat Redmond

 

The Mariner

Gate Theatre, Dublin

***

 

The horrors of the first World War loom large in Hugo Hamilton’s intimately scaled drama, but the real battleground is on the home front. Sam O’Mahony plays the eponymous seafarer, Peter Shanley, a heavily bandaged Corkman who has been discharged from the Royal Navy in circumstances that are unclear, not least because he is mute from shellshock.

As his mother (Ingrid Craigie) and wife Sally (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) try to discover what happened to Peter, conflicting priorities emerge. Mrs Shanley becomes convinced the damaged, disgraced sailor cannot be her virtuous son, a man consistently described in his service logbook as being “VG”, while Sally is libidinously overjoyed at the return of a husband she hardly knows. Slowly, against the restive backdrop of 1916 Ireland, tensions reach boiling point.

Under Patrick Mason’s assured direction, Hamilton’s script juggles the dramatic with the thematic. Peter’s amnesia about his experience and the two women’s conflicting views of his sacrifice have obvious echoes of the long-held national ambiguity about those who served in British forces during the Great War, but this metaphorical aspect never dominates proceedings.

Instead, the personal story is front and centre. Craigie’s loving but possessive matriarch is an increasingly resentful foil to Dwyer Hogg’s more spirited and optimistic character, while O’Mahony brings contained energy and heft to his role. All the while, the mystery of Peter’s wartime experience resonates silently, reinforced by Joe Vanek’s scarred hulk of a set.

With a slightly overheated denouement and self-consciously elegiac coda, the play is not entirely successful. But overall, Hamilton’s work – inspired by his grandfather’s naval service – is a nuanced, empathetic look at the human cost of war, both for combatants and their families. If not superlative, it certainly merits a VG. Ends Oct 25

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