There are knowing nods and acknowledgements to the audience in Mark Farrelly’s solo play The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton. Noting the lack of a happy ending to this one-act production, Farrelly’s Hamilton seeks to reinforce this real-life story, which was troubled to say the least. Hamilton (1904-1963) repressed his homosexuality (he married twice, to Lois Marie Martin, and after divorcing her to Lady Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot), but at some point, it got found out anyway, which explains the straitjacket he’s in at the start of the play – the medical professionals are about to put him under electrotherapy, the administering of electric shocks with the aim of changing his sexual orientation. Bizarre at best and shocking at worst by today’s standards, the straitjacket calls to mind the one used in the production of the Alan Bennett play The Madness of King George.
But Hamilton seems to accept that a straitjacket is required for the ‘therapy’ he is about to go through. Having taken it off, ostensibly for dramatic purposes (how exactly is one supposed to move around a stage keeping a straitjacket on throughout?), he offers in the closing moments to put it back on himself. His apparent willingness to be subjected to ‘treatment’ – inverted commas mine – is almost as disturbing as the session itself. Then again, as the narrative makes clear, Hamilton was a tortured soul in other ways.
The play’s scope is broad, encompassing Hamilton’s life from beginning to end. His father, Bernard, was a bully, even by the comparatively domineering paternal standards of the day. A road traffic collision left him substantially disfigured, from which arose an alcohol addiction – which manifests itself even in the characters of his plays. I recall seeing a production of Rope, his 1929 play, in which the lead characters drank so much over the course of one evening it was a marvel they remained coherent to the final scenes.
Although the story is an interesting one, there are points during the performance where it feels a little constrained by the parameters of a commitment to keeping the show authentic. It’s very sad that Hamilton had such a difficult life, but the events portrayed don’t go much beyond marriage being hard work, especially when there’s a third person in it, and Hamilton becoming a writer because that’s what people in his family did for a living. The decision not to deploy artistic licence is rather admirable, even if it makes for a less riveting account of what went on.
Farrelly repeatedly finds himself on the stage floor – there’s the accident with a car already mentioned, and then a later altercation with his brother Bruce doesn’t end well for him. Whether one is a keen admirer of Hamilton, or (like yours truly) went into the show not knowing significant at all about him, there’s much to enjoy in this dark-humoured and nuanced production. Despite its brief running time (71 minutes by my reckoning) this life story never felt rushed.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The rapport with the audience is also noteworthy – “Our father travelled Europe to narrow his mind,” mused Farrelly’s Hamilton, a scripted line like all the others, but a sly look at the audience was all it took to acknowledge those whose minds were concentrated on certain parliamentary happenings. It is worth mentioning, too, that several thousand pounds have been raised for MIND, the mental health charity, through post-show collections. A complex and witty portrait of a complex and witty writer.
Mark Farrelly (Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope) presents his riveting, kinetic solo show portraying one of the great English writers of the inter-war years. Patrick Hamilton was a dazzling success in his twenties, producing hit plays Rope (filmed by Hitchcock) and Gaslight, and classic novels Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky, Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude.
But Hamilton was also an alcoholic, whose wit became increasingly mordant as his inner and outer worlds collapsed. Covering the entire sweep of Hamilton’s turbulent life and writing, The Silence of Snow entertains and challenges in equal measure, asking audiences: why do so many of us get through life without feeling we ever truly knew another person?
This witty and engaging tribute to a great English writer is written and performed by Mark Farrelly, whose West End credits include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opposite Matthew Kelly. He is directed by EastEnders star Linda Marlowe.
The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton
written and performed by Mark Farrelly
directed by Linda Marlowe
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 March 2019