Written and directed by Izzy Gray this tells the intriguing true story of three lighthouse keepers who disappeared without trace from the Flannan Isle Lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides in 1900. When the boat bringing the relief keepers arrives at the rock eleven days later, the light is out, the clocks have stopped and there is no sign of any of the men. The captain of the relief boat searches in vain, growing ever more disturbed by the eerie emptiness. There is a single oilskin coat left hanging in the mess, seeming to indicate that one of the men left in a hurry. What catastrophe could have happened to cause all three keepers to vanish? A freak wave? Or something more sinister?
Today there are no lighthouse keepers, all the lighthouses are automatic. Even so, the lighthouses need maintenance, and when a helicopter brings a crew of three maintenance men to the Flannan Isle Lighthouse more than a century later, the mystery of what happened there in the past is bound to be mentioned. And when bad weather stops the helicopter from returning, the men have to spend the night there, and things take a chilly turn.
The three male cast members play dual roles, switching between the 1900 lighthouse crew and the modern-day maintenance men; the time shift being indicated by swift and simple costume conversions and a change of lighting from mellow yellow to bright white. Rhys Anderson as Donald and Mac is the youngest and cheekiest. His ignorance, as Mac, of the mystery of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse is the perfect vehicle for carrying the narrative, as related by the other two men. Anderson is able to appear both bolshie and vulnerable as the apprentice Mac and creates most of the humour in that part. Fraser Sivewright plays Tam and Alec, older and more experienced and, as Alec, pushes Mac’s buttons with friendly derision. Garry Stewart as Jim and Davie is possibly the most sensible and compassionate one and, as Davie, plays an excellent drunk when they find the whisky left behind from 1900. It tastes disgusting but as they’re having to spend the night there, they drink it anyway. All three actors give a melodic and haunting rendition of “Wild Hurricane”, a perfect finish to the trio’s performance.
Danny Main’s set design is simple, a small and basic kitchen with a lobster creel, in case we’d forgotten we were by the sea. On arrival in the theatre the performance space was shrouded in sea mist, creating the atmosphere of remoteness and eeriness, and with a searchlight sweeping the auditorium at intervals we were transported to lighthouse life before the play began, thanks to Tom Sulat’s technical production and lighting design. Kit Willmott’s sound design provided all the atmosphere of wild weather at sea and the clanking, monotonous thud of the turning light, a sound that could “drive a man mad”. Ana Norrie-Toch was the movement director, giving the cast ropes to pull and although impressively done, I didn’t quite see how it added to the performance or the narrative.
Izzy Gray has written an interesting and enthralling play respectfully told, of a little known tragedy. There are a few explanations offered regarding the fate of those lighthouse men, but no conclusions made. It will forever remain a mystery.
Reviewer: H. S. Baker
Reviewed: 9th September 2023
North West End UK Rating:
“The Keepers of the Light” plays at Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock on 19th September and at Universal Hall Promotions, Findhorn on 23rd September.