Master of the monologue, Mark Farrelly, sits slumped forward in an upright chair shrouded in a white smock, whose back-ties make it resemble a cross between a straight jacket and a surgeon’s theatre robe. Both would have been familiar to his subject. The hazy air lends a further chill to the foreboding scene, while in the background, with ironic humour, Nat King Cole poignantly sings, ‘Smile tho' your heart is aching’.
Farrelly intriguingly deploys his many skills and all his talents.
Patrick Hamilton’s life (1904-1962) spanned the most troubled times of the twentieth century and the battles and depression that nations endured were no less present in his own life. In its winter, as he suffers the pains of cirrhosis in his liver and failure in his kidneys, brought about by years of alcohol abuse, he yearns for inner peace and outward tranquility.
His parents were both writers and he fell as naturally into that career as he did alcoholism, which he gleaned from his bully of a father. He had some success with his early novels but aged twenty nine he penned Rope and at thirty four Gas Light, two plays that shocked audiences and have stood the test of time, both on stage and immortalised in film, with Hitchcock making the former and Ingrid Bergman appearing in the latter. So distinctive and powerful was the psychological manipulation he devised in that play that the term gaslighting eventually entered the dictionary and the set and lighting in this production pay homage to it.
Although socially feted his personal life was something of a shambles. Sexually insecure, his first liaison was with the prostitute Lois Marie Martin, whom he married in 1930, but for years his love for her was rent by his devotion to Lady Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot. Divorcing Lois in 1953 he married the society lady a year later yet remained torn between the two. The stress of these relationships added to the ongoing physical suffering and disfiguration he endured from being run over by a car in his twenties.
Eventually, it all took its toll. Depression and general aversion to things of the modern world set in. Entering a clinic, which forms the setting for this play, he subjects himself to a course of electro-therapy, which along with the physical ailments, lead to his ultimate demise.
The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton, under the appropriately stark direction of Linda Marlowe, affords none of the light relief provided by Quentin Crisp’s camp eccentricity in Farrelly’s other famous monologue and neither is the character as endearing. Like Hamilton’s life, the drama is tough and unrelenting. There are moments of wit and humour, mostly from a surfeit of well-known idioms being turned on their head and the splendid loss of virginity scene carried out in the dark. In taking on this challenge Farrelly intriguingly deploys his many skills and all his talents. He accomplishes the intense reclusive introspection and yet also belts out the rage, fury and arguments that characterised Hamilton’s marital relationship. He brings alive family disputes and locations while effortlessly swapping between characters; the eyes, the lips, the looks and gestures all playing their part in support of the voices and overall deportment.
Farrelly’s writing provides a broad picture of Hamilton’s life, focussing on those aspects that most appeal to him for portrayal on stage, hence an exploration Hamilton’s ideology and espousal of communism is a deliberate omission. He sees the play as ‘a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of not confronting one’s own inner chaos’. This is an issue close to Farrelly’s heart and, as always with his performances, there is the invitation to donate towards the mental health charity MIND, for whom he has raised considerable sums of money. An added dimension to this play is its dedication to the to the memory of his close friend Tim Welling, who committed suicide in December 2012. Farrelly says, ‘He was the first person to read The Silence of Snow, and always promised to be in the front row of the first performance, a promise he was unable to fulfil’.
Hamilton once observed that ‘the great problem with life is that you can get from one end of it to the other without ever feeling that another human being ever truly knew you.’ There is a feeling that much the same can be said of this play, despite Farrelly has delved into the depths of his life and revealed so many details. I know what he did and what happened to him, I’ve journeyed through the ups and downs of his life but I still don’t know whether I would like to have met him or not; whether I would like to have been part of his social circle or not. He remains fascinatingly elusive; maybe we were never meant to truly know him.