The Silence of Snow


On a black stage a single figure dressed in a white clinical gown is leaning over, a bottle of spirits is beside him.  This is Patrick Hamilton waiting for the ECT – electric shock treatment which is prescribed to cure him of his alcoholism.

Hamilton opens up his mind to show us his world of self-hating melancholy where ‘To those whom God has forsaken is given a gas fire in Muswell Hill.’  His doctor has told him he is ‘committing suicide in instalments’ and he heartily concurs.

Hamilton was a sensationally successful writer in the 1930s and 40s; he wrote a series of novels about the tawdry suburban underworld of the Home Counties and wrote the plays Rope and Gas Light, both successfully filmed.  He gave the language the term ‘gaslighting’ for dishonestly convincing someone that they are not observing reality.

Reality is here in spades in this one-man production written and performed in 70 minutes by Mark Farrelly who possesses the stage with wide gestures, grimaces, shouts, vocal sweeps and audience engagement.  He assumes the parts of characters in Hamilton’s life: his mother talking to him about his bowel movements and her hopeless novels; his unloving and boastful father and an imperious senior editor who no longer likes Hamilton’s work but will publish it anyway.

Throughout Farrelly inhabits Hamilton with the most minimal of props, letting his character speak in his sardonic, bleak tones of depression, anger and drunken insults to his brother and wives.  His invective does not spare his own prose, suggesting that ‘The theme of the Great English Novel is that this is a bloody awful life.’  There are plenty of laugh in this production, but no happiness.

The problem with a writer’s life is generally that there isn’t much life – the writing is what you get.  Farrelly overcomes this to some extent by dramatising passages from the novels like Hangover Square which is a working out of Hamilton’s obsession with coarse, emotionally inaccessible women. ‘What is it about tight men and loose women?’ he asks.

However, we still are left with not very much material. Hamilton was famous at 24, had a serious car accident, had two wives and died of cirrhosis of the liver at 58.  This production lacks the dramatic tension and suspense of a play but is still a rich portrayal of a gifted, flawed man and an unjustly neglected writer.   To give Hamilton the last word, his epitaph was suggested as ‘Battered silly by life but still smiling.’  This production is a fitting tribute to him.