Friday, 18 March 2011


Last night we went to see a play at the Welsh Millennium Centre, called 'Keepers', devised and performed by The Plasticine Men.
     It is based on a true story set in 1801, aboard a lighthouse far off the West Welsh coast in a wild area known as The Smalls. The story is about the claustrophobic relationship between Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, the two keepers. Both eventually go mad. The subsequent result was that lighthouses were never again manned by only two keepers, but by a team of three.
     It was a very physical piece of theatre with minimum props: a ladder, a trap door and two chairs. With the aid of live music and sound effects you could really imagine you were watching action happening inside and outside the lighthouse. Performances were energetic and committed, although at times accents moved with the waves from Rhondda to Tipperary. The ending wasn't clear. It was only in the 'after show' talk that I realised that one keeper had hoisted the other one, dead, up the flag pole.  More moments of stillness between frenetic scenes of keeping the light going would have given more clarity and insight. Perhaps, if they'd been a writer bringing together the actors' improvisations, adding sub text and slowing down the pace at times, this would have helped produce a more moving piece.
    I have always had a fascination with lighthouses and lighthouse keepers. I guess there's a kind of romantic curiosity and nostalgia about their lives.  I once met a lighthouse keeper on Fair Isle. He didn't have to go far from home-perhaps a mile down the road. He also had other jobs which he did in between his shifts, such as selling lobsters and being a fire warden. It wasn't very long ago when the lighthouse was automated and his post made redundant. When we met him he was piloting the boat from Sumburgh on Shetland down to Fair isle. He let me fulfill a lifetime ambition: sit in his seat and pretend that I was taking us home over the choppy waves back to the mainland.  Who knows, if I'd met him a few years earlier he might have let me share a shift in his light house?

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