Edinburgh Fringe 2009
This is a beautiful piece of work, very strong stylistically while being poignant and funny. The Lamplighter himself is a puppet, but the men in top hats easily swap with him creating a very fluid onstage identity. While there are many striking and beautiful visual moments these sometimes exist at the expense of the narrative, which is the only (mild) flaw in this strong performance.
The three Victorian gentlemen who play folksy music as the audience enter all look pretty similar. That helps when each of them takes turns at playing the Lamplighter: a quintessential Victorian figure, the true gentleman who kept the gaslights burning at night. The three are able to pass his identity along, whilst also being anonymous figures in the background, being the props of his house themselves thus keeping the stage bare and the props minimal. Simplicity itself.
The Lamplighter is a sleepwalker who lives by the sea, an idea that is quaint in itself. But it leads to possibly the most evocative and beautiful onstage representation of the sea that is ever likely to exist. It’s a moment that epitomises the whole show. A plastic sheet washes up to a man whose back faces us, lit only from above. As the sheet falls around his feet, tide-like, it rises from the opposite end and slopes down towards him again, as it recedes from his feet like the ebb of a wave. I’m in danger of saying ‘beautiful’ too much.
Like so much else in this show, the puppetry is simple but effective. Nothing ground-breaking, but it’s all very sweet. The Lamplighter plays with his daughter, who is teasingly playful herself. Meanwhile, the Lamplighter himself is the focus of a highly effective movement sequence, in which not he but the streetlights move.
While the puppets are great for non-verbal narrative, the scenes don’t quite hold the story together and that lack of clarity harms the production. It’s a shame, because this is strong everywhere else. While high on style, The Lamplighter’s Lament still needs to sharpen its substance and establish its story. Otherwise, this will remain a piece of brilliant visual theatre with no solid plotline.