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The Seafarer, Perth Theatre

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It's easy to mistake the first half-hour of Conor McPherson's 2006 West End and Broadway hit for a hangover from the in-yer-face era. Once McPherson's metaphysical fascinations kick in, however, this furious tale of five booze-sodden men holed up in an Irish cottage playing poker on Christmas Eve becomes a matter of life and death.

Sharky has returned home to look after his blind brother, Richard, who is also tended to by his drinking buddy, Ivan. Sharky is off the sauce and trying to put his life back together, but when local wide-boy and Sharky's nemesis Nicky turns up with a mysterious stranger called Mr Lockhart in search of a game of cards, it is as if all his demons have come home to torment him.

McPherson has crafted a meatily fantastical yarn which rips into macho self-loathing, the psychologically addictive allure of gambling, and how the long-term consequences of every misguided action will always get you in the end. It's an astonishing piece of writing that fuses a contemporary scenario with a dangerous supernatural edge that's utterly convincing.

For all the ferocity of Rachel O'Riordan's co-production between Perth and the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, its subtle touches, like the way Sharky touches the portrait of Christ every time he goes upstairs, shine through. There's a sense too of the blind leading the blind throughout a set of mighty performances. Louis Dempsey's Sharky, Tony Flynn as Nicky, Ciaran McIntyre as Richard and Sean O'Callaghan as Ivan are all terrific. Benny Young's savagely looming presence as the diabolical Mr Lockhart, meanwhile, is terrifying.

The end may sentimentalise Sharky's second chance, but, until the next time, he's a very lucky man indeed.

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