Review: Dark Winter

During the first week of November Dark Winter by David Mark, produced by Ensemble 52 and directed by Andrew Pearson, enjoyed a second successful run this time in the main house at Hull Truck Theatre.

Rather than write about the lead character Aector McAvoy, enough has been said about him meeting audience expectations or not, during the play’s run at Heads Up Festival – for the record he may not be the six-foot built like a barn door figure from the book but actor Peter McMillan has presence enough to command the stage – I decided to pen something about two of the female characters.

Much has been written of late about the rise of women readers and writers of Crime Fiction. Hull Noir ran a panel event investigating the phenomenon during Humber Mouth Read Here

I think that in this Dark Winter, stage adaptation by Richard Vergette and Nick Lane, Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh (pictured)  and Roisin McAvoy are absolutely intrinsic to the story, in fact far from being reactors – though if provoked no doubt Trish could go nuclear – I would go as far to say that without them, there would be no story: no McAvoy at all.

Trish played by Sarah Naughton is the archetypal ball-breaker, no-nonsense D.S. She gets given all the best lines and delivers them with both barrels, swearing like a trooper, much to the audience’s shocked delight. She is not quite the immovable ice-queen, evidence for this lies in the way she gives McAvoy his head to investigate things his way, once she realises he is onto something. Perhaps in him she sees something of her own struggle to ascend the greasy ladder, he too has fallen foul of Head Office politics.  

I recall from before a certain chemistry that felt like it could overstep professional boundaries, as Pharaoh flirted with her boy wonder in a local Hull pub… I missed that this time around.

During the scenes inside the Lord Line building Pharaoh describes Roisin McAvoy’s wife, as being his ‘oasis of calm’ rightly recognising that without her McAvoy wouldn’t be half the detective he is. There is an ever-present tension between the maverick way McAvoy operates; where his family rank in his priorities, and their own, Pharaoh and McAvoy’s, professional/personal interaction.

Roisin played by Danielle Phillips makes abundantly clear her disapproval of McAvoy and Pharaoh’s relationship with a very curt welcome, when the D.S. dares disrupt their family home to bring McAvoy new information on the case. It is Rosin and not Aector, who hits upon a new detail, a detail that moves the case in a new direction, after the detective has been sent home to use that brain of his, on Pharaoh’s orders.

(Excuse the caginess: even though many will be familiar with David Mark’s McAvoy series, this thing is still ripe for spoilers)

She could demand that he choose… rather she gently but firmly tells him to never forget that they, his actual family, are there too. Without Roisin’s tolerance and faith in him, McAvoy would surely have become embittered and succumbed to the rigours of the job. McAvoy to his credit, recognises her ongoing sacrifice and during an altercation with a colleague who has besmirched her background – he refers to Roisin McAvoy as ‘your pikey wife  – we do see a fiercely protective side to him. It’s a side that suggests that he might risk all, including the job, to defend her.    

And while we are pretty certain that the job will always win out, McAvoy’s unlikely to abandon things in the middle of a multiple-murder enquiry to be with his wife currently eight months pregnant with their second child, you are left wondering exactly what it would take to break them.

Picture by Anete Sooda: Sarah Naughton as D.S. Trish Pharaoh in David Mark’s Dark Winter at Hull Truck Nov 2018 

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