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FringeReview Scotland 2024

The Lighthouse

Leeds Playhouse and Red Ladder

Genre: Drama, Fringe Theatre, One Person Show, Theatre, True-life

Venue: Cumbernauld Theatre at the Lanternhouse


Low Down

Over a period of time, a woman meets a man with whom she shares a great deal of friendship. That friendship then grows until, between living in the UK, she, studying in Paris, he, studying in Dublin, their romance creates a strength in a bond called upon to be the unbreakable bridge on which both may stand when he becomes ill. From a message from his mother, in the US, that says he has gone missing and is unwell, to his discovery alive but troubled, his therapy and recovery we are taken though this narrative. With audience participation to fill in the casting, the plot is told by the woman who knows because she was there. It informs us that when a man goes overboard, you have the means to recover them and bring them to safety at our metaphorical Lighthouse.


Writer and performer, Alys Williams is a thoroughly engaging presence who warms us by encouraging our participation centrally into the drama. Upon a set with an avowedly nautical theme, we watch her enlist people who shall shout man overboard, blow a whistle and deliver a parcel and a letter. Further on she brings people onstage to play her mother, father, sister and “Nathan” – the man whose ill health has brought us here. Thankfully there were plenty in the auditorium and of those plenty willing to help out. It did, however, break the barrier between stage and auditorium effectively meaning that we could feel part of something more than the sum of its parts. Williams always delivered a warmth and joy to which we responded by wanting to understand. As the show is deeply personal, it was an advantage to feel we had a place within the solution.

The direction was supported by a set which was both very interesting to look at and also highly functional. The interaction it gave Williams to move and respond without having to repeat too many moves was a help to make the storytelling anchored in a place but creatively imagined transporting us elsewhere when needed. It meant that there were some tricky issues around how to get across different places that were not all at sea, but Williams along with Andrea Heaton’s direction made that very easy to follow.

Where I had my issues was in the script. Retelling the trauma that you have or have vicariously experienced is a very personal and demanding thing. The metaphor of man overboard and the lighthouse has a lot of merit, even though the two do not really match up – it’s not something you would do on a lighthouse as there is no bridge to tell, captain to inform or other ships to support you. But, by the end the connection became a little clearer.

If the conceit had an issue, then the piece compounded that by having repetition which meant that I left feeling a little let down by the experience. It felt like he got ill, we spent ages on getting the support for Nathan right and then hey presto he was better and being treated and that is everything will be all right in the end. I felt we had the surface of Nathan, but not the substance of the relationship between them. I would have chucked out half the repetition to find out more about them and stay longer to feel that the recovery – which is never smooth – which would include some of the bumps from which we could really learn. It is testimony to the enriching presence of Williams that I was left wanting more because the difficulties of going from being enthusiastic and engaging as a narrator, to the anguished partner of someone who needs your help and you exist to help but are oftentimes unsure of if you can help, is explored well enough. Sometimes it felt a little forced, but more than often I was happy to accept that these moments were part of the genuine experience of having to find the means of coping, rather than a lack of engagement.

Mental ill health needs stories like The Lighthouse because it speaks authenticity and suggests hope – even in the midst of a crisis in our state funded support services. I just felt here I got halfway in, wanted to know more but the life raft came galloping towards me. I would be happy to stay out at sea just that little longer to test more of the waters.