Five go Drinking in the Underworld

If Enid Blyton had written The Seafarer (reviews here) I’m pretty sure that is the title she would have come up with.

200px-Scotland_relief_location_mapOne time I was involved in a World War 1 play. The set was an abstract of sand bags and scaffolding and we were invited to play at the St. Magnus Festival on The Orkney Islands north of the northern tip of Scotland across the Pentland Firth, one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the navigable seas.

We drove a van up the length of Britain from London to Thurso all through the night, and at an early hour before the sun came up one of the company filled the gas tank with diesel, not petrol, and we came to a full stop on a lonely road just about dawn. The highway services came to our rescue but we lost 2 hours in the confusion.

We reached Thurso (as far north-east as you can go in Scotland) to see the ferry which we had booked to take our set and costumes steaming out of the harbour.

What was to be done?

Our entrepreneurial assistant director was off round the moorings and he cut a deal with a fisherman to take us and our sandbags and scaffolding across the Pentland Firth in an open boat. The fee was £50, and “all the beer I can drink”.

Fortunately word of this madness reached the harbour-master and he immediately put a stop to it, otherwise I would be writing this from the sea-bed. We were able to re-book our berths on the next ferry but logistics meant there was no room for our set. So we abandoned the aforementioned scaffolding and sandbags (which we had transported the length of the country), repacked our costumes into suitcases and, catching the next ferry, gave our performance in the Festival on time.

Every now and there’s a stand out gig in an actor’s progress (to say career would be too loose a use of that word). The Seafarer was such a one for me.  Great role, great cast (yes, the five who go drinking, ah lads…), great company – the Irish Rep, a brilliant triumph, as all theatres are, of the improbable over the impossible. Huge thanks and kudos to Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’ Reilly, co-founders, and to all who work there.


Mick Mellamphy as Ivan, Colin McPhillamy as Richard in

The Seafarer at The Irish Rep. Photo Carol Rosegg

Tangentially and speaking of the sea and of ferries… I’m delighted to say that in September I will join the company of The Ferryman, a London transfer to Broadway. In a later blog I will disclose details of the patentable Mick Mellamphy Magical Method which assisted me to this forthcoming gig.

Big thanks too, to Carol Brennan  who writes pacey, spicy crime fiction, for letting me crash on the sofa bed in the funky East Village when the commute got out of hand!

Next stop far north-eastern Maine and the Bagaduce Theatre – as far north-east as you can go without hitting Canada and New Brunswick where my maternal great-grandmother was born and at a young age in her early adult life as an actress sailed to Australia under a seven year contract to J C Williamson, theatrical producer, but that’s another story.



16 replies on “Five go Drinking in the Underworld”

I recall a day in the fifties when Enid Blyton was banned from my primary school library – something to do with Noddy’s flagrant disregard of Mr Plods police authoritarianism..


Hi Colin,

Congratulations on the excellence of your memory. I wasn’t in that van you describe, though I could easily have been as it was transporting my production of Allan Cubitt’s first ever play (and what a career he went on to have, Emmy-laden and all that!), but I well remember the vivid descriptions you gave of the whole, crazy experience.

And congratulations on getting The Ferryman gig. I saw it in London. What a wonderful play it is! You will have a ball.

Much love,


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Well from one Richard to the other…I get it all Colin. I played him at the Abbey in 2008 and 2010…then played him again like a slippery fish in Sydney and had the nerve to direct as well Richard never leave the phyche.
Maeliosa x

Lovely piece. Colin. Two things mate. 1. It was a joy and a pleasure spending the past few months Seafaring with you my friend. 2. The Mick Mellamphy magical method only works on the most gifted of Actors. Can’t wait to meet and work with you again my friend.

You were both a pleasure to work with. I miss you guys already. I do hope our paths cross again.

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