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The Silence of Snow (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton

Venue: The Bridge House Theatre, London SE20 8RZ

Credits: Written and performed by Mark Farrelly

The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton

5 stars

Mark Farrelly is a phenomenal actor and writer. In fact I think his skills have developed even since I first saw him in action in Howerd’s End two years ago. Since then I’ve seen Naked Hope

(his Quentin Crisp show), Jarman (twice) and Howerd’s End again. And he’s riveting every time.

The Silence of Snow dates from 2014 and was, actually, the first play Farrelly wrote. It tells the sad and tortured story of Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) author of plays such as Rope and Gaslight and novels such as Hangover Square and The West Pier. He was very successful when still quite young but was a heavy, compulsive drinker beset by the “black dog” of acute depression so his life was blighted.

Farrelly inhabits Hamilton totally and the intimate, almost televisual play is ideally suited to the small space of the Bridge House because it means that Farrelly is physically close to the audience who become the participative  listeners as Hamilton awaits the horror of an electroconvulsive therapy session in a hospital – a scene which more or less frames the action although there is also an epilogue in which we meet the dying Hamilton once last time.

He is very adept at slipping into other roles: his sneering tyrannical father, ineffectual la-di-da mother, a metal-voiced London prostitute, Michael Sadleir of Constable, who becomes Hamiliton’s publisher, and others. In each case there’s a subtle switch as, whipping off Hamilton’s glasses, Farrelly simply turns himself into someone else. The voice work is terrific and the sound is like music with more dynamic tension than a Tchaikovsky symphony as Farrelly shifts in an instant from  subito fortissimo to subito pianissimo – thus conveying turbulent mood shifts and many colours of the mind and memory of a chronic depressive.

He’s also a master of mime whether he’s affectedly puffing a cigarette, turning a key in a door or listening to an imaginary speaker. And – comic genius – when he and his first wife, who have “saved themselves” because “that’s what you did in the thirties” finally go to bed together we get blackout and we hear a hilarious conversation with Farrelly, of course, doing both voices. Despite the dark subject matter of this play, there are quite a lot of laughs. Farrelly’s version of Hamilton is very good at sardonic one liners.

In the final scene, still only 58 but “making Methuselah look like a teddy boy”  he is hunched, a blanket round his shoulders, dying of sclerosis and kidney failure but still sucking noisily at a whisky bottle like a baby with milk. The Beatles’s Love Me Do is playing to connote 1962 and it’s  almost unbearably moving. He talks with a slurred stutter – bitter, brittle, angry, disappointed and resigned. What a performance!

First published by Sardines:


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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