The Mariner is a play by Hugo Hamilton currently running in the Gate Theatre as part of the 2014 Dublin Theatre Festival. The Mariner is about a Royal Navy sailor who returns home in 1916 after being injured at the Battle of Jutland.
This might be one of those plays you’ll either love or hate. The festival’s blurb describes it as “exciting” – well no, sorry, it most certainly isn’t. It’s slow, dull, and feels rather too long. I’d be surprised if many audience members weren’t relieved when it ended. But… it all depends what you’re looking for. If you want a play to mull over, break down into layers and discuss or critique at length then The Mariner is a far more promising play. A play doesn’t have to be exciting to be good; and the Mariner manages to be both superficially uninteresting yet enjoyable to consider at length. Perhaps it’s like exercise or Beckett; sometimes you only appreciate it properly when it’s over.
If you try to enjoy the play just at the level of the obvious plot and characters (mother, wife, returned sailor), you might well hate it. Arguably the key characters are the off-stage ones you hear about through the on-stage characters; some of these are based on real historical persons. And at the risk of overanalysing this, Hamilton seems to be operating on a few different layers here, all of which are just as important and valid as the literal interpretation. You might, for example, view the play with the mariner’s identity being Ireland. At a push, you might even consider him to be a 20th century Will Mariner – do a google – or as being partly inspired by Hamilton’s own search for identity. Your interpretations might differ.
Unfortunately though, whatever intriguing subtext the play possesses rests on a narrative too weak to support it.
The Mariner runs until 25th October 2014 in the Gate Theatre. The play’s duration is about 90 minutes, with no interval. Tickets cost €25.