Edinburgh Fringe 2010
In the 1700s a lighthouse was built on a rock formation off the Welsh coast, intended to warn passing ships of the danger. Known as the Smalls, the rocks were a menace to countless sailors until men agreed to sacrifice home comforts and human company in order to protect them. A careful and well-judged balance of mime, sound effects and physical theatre by the Plasticine Men gently brings to life this true story about friendship, death madness and selfless sacrifice.
‘Keepers’ tells its story on two tracks – one the events of a storm and its consequences, the other a series of flashbacks to the two men together before the storm. It’s very much a study of two men in an isolated space, stuck with nothing but each other’s company and the tasks they must accomplish for the sake of the souls on ships aorund them. Like the man at the top of a ship’s mast, they must keep watch for the safety of the ships’ crews, and neither is an easy job. It might seem obvious that a lighthouse’s windows have to be clean, so that they light shines out clearly, but apparently the inside has to be immaculately clean as well. That may be out of respect for the job of lighthouse keeper, but seems more to do with the fact that, in the Atlantic waves, cleaning is as good a use of time as any other.
The two keepers of the title are both called Thomas and are both Welsh. Endearing in their warmth and strained friendship, they are men who miss their homes but are committed to the task of protecting their fellow man from the harsh elements that surround them. Each of the pair brings a generous performance, and it really is very sweet when one of them sacrifices everything so that the lamp can be lit in a storm. Their relationship is one that takes time, and rewards continued viewing under different circumstances (overbearing Thomas isn’t overbearing all of the time, and the two of them do have fun on the lighthouse).
The lighthouse is created through a set of props and mime, with the lamp itself being evoked by one man turning on the spot whilest holding a ladder. It’s all very simple, very economical, but all very effective. That’s rather how I imagine a real lighthouse to work. You’re unlikely to find a better onstage depiction of the difference between indoors and outdoors than when these two pace around their lighthouse windows: sharp, defined, clever and funny – superb.
This is a warm, open-hearted and generous production, funny at times and well worth seeing.