A man, a chair and his white hospital gown are all that occupy the stage. This man, his eyes framed by thick rimmed glasses, is the writer Patrick Hamilton. He is not a household name. But, Mark Farrelly suggests in this monologue, he should be. In the 1930s he was an acclaimed author who had a string of successful novels and plays, and a turbulent personal life. Perhaps most famously he wrote Rope, a stage thriller in which two students murder a classmate, lock his body in a trunk and invite his parents round to eat off it. But apart from that Hamilton has been neglected and Farrelly has taken it upon himself to revive the man’s reputation in a monologue that he has written and that he performs.
This blank stage is a waiting room, a limbo, while Hamilton – a cirrhotic alcoholic whose body is failing him (“the nurse has to hold my manhood steady with cake tongs”) – waits to receive electro-convulsive therapy. As Hamilton draws nearer to his turn he rattles through this self-penned memorial, his own extended epitaph – by turns panicky and conceited.
Except the words are not all Patrick Hamilton’s: Farrelly combines extracts of Hamilton’s writing with his own inventions, and the result is a biography of sorts that is not particularly kind to the man. There is great admiration for Hamilton’s work, but the character Farrelly creates is an arrogant, destructive alcoholic.
What Farrelly’s monologue throws up is the inextricability of creator and creation, of the man Hamilton and his writing. It’s a difficult relationship to negotiate – I hate Morrissey but love The Smiths – and much of the media is occupied with personality-driven content, with Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos rather than her powerful portrayal of Katniss Everdeen. If this play is an attempt to reignite interest in Hamilton’s works then it also mythologises the errant lifestyle of the man – and that can’t be accidental. Farrelly has included the juicy details because, for the audience, they are a way in. They provide something that is not just a linear chronology of Hamilton’s life, nor an extended reading of extracts of his work.
Beyond that, The Silence Of Snow is written and performed by Mark Farrelly. It is his (necessarily subjective, selective) account of Hamilton’s life and so the piece itself becomes about the creator/creation interaction, about Farrelly. Farrelly has decided what words to put on a page, and then how to turn those words into a live character. I’ve seen Rope, but that’s the only encounter I’ve had with Hamilton’s writing – everything else I know I have taken on trust from this hour of (what I assume to be) accurate, dramatised biography.
There is wonderful passion and charisma in Farrelly’s script and his performance but there’s only so much a one man show can convey – importantly, while it can use extracts from Hamilton’s work, it still has to focus inevitably on character (on the character that Farrelly creates) rather than on the literature.
Farrelly’s performance is melodramatic and energetic, a complete embodiment of a complex character. Every line is given an unexpected intonation. He combines a dash of Andrew Scott’s manic Moriarty – wide, white eyes, intensity, unpredictability – with a splash of Uncle Monty from Withnail & I – exaggerated upper class accent, trilled ‘r’s and elongated vowels. But, despite the focus on character, unfamiliarity with Hamilton’s works is not an obstacle. His notable pieces of writing are introduced, their context, plot and impact explained with flair and simplicity.
At intervals the lights flicker and dim, a chilling, Gothic interruption that keeps reminding the audience of the horror that awaits Hamilton once his monologue has come to an end. The Silence Of Snow is not apologism for the man. However, through Farrelly’s script and his engrossing performance, it makes a strong case for Hamilton’s works.
It’s a worrying show for a writer. Roman writers were driven by the idea that their texts afforded them immortality, and the notions of posterity, legacy and longevity are difficult to separate from a piece of literature. So how can someone like Patrick Hamilton get left behind? How can someone who met with such acclaim, enjoyed such fame, be relatively unknown only 80 years later? Graham Greene lauded him, JB Priestley feted him. He’s now printed in Vintage Classics, available for £4 on Kindle. Maybe, these days, that’s the best any writer can hope for.