City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Keepers Review

By Kenneth Scott - Posted on 19 August 2010

Show details
Pleasance and Plasticine Men
Running time: 
Simon Day (director), Samantha Keeble (designer), Lawrence Williams (sound designer), Pablo Fernandez Baz (lighting designer).
Martin Bonger (Thomas Howell), Fionn Gill (Thomas Griffiths) and Lawrence Williams.

Twenty miles off the Pembrokeshire cliffs lie the Smalls, a tiny cluster of twenty jagged rocks that were topped by a lighthouse like no other – an octagonal shelter resting 65 feet high on wooden stilts, through which waves of incomparable ferocity crashed and foamed, rocking the whole structure.

In this far-flung outpost we meet its keepers. They may share a name, but two more incompatible characters would be hard to find. Obsessive-compulsive Thomas Howell finds fault with just about everything dreamer Thomas Griffiths does. While Griffiths watches birds and revels in the remote wildness, Howell keeps his meticulous diary – “Griffiths has not been pulling his own weight. He is not cut from the cloth of a true lighthouse man”.

There is a storm rolling in fast as they move around the minimalist set, delineating in movement the limits of the lighthouse and miming the cleaning of the glass. Howell is steadfast in his attempts not only to have Griffiths carry out his duties but to do them using own his idiosyncratic techniques and routines. As much as he is a stickler for the rules Howell eats more than his daily ration of biscuits - partly to punish his colleague, or is he going crackers?

While Griffith has imagined conversations with his mother, far over the sea, Howells proudly ponders on how many other professions would wish to have their role. Not that it’s an easy life. The endless demands of maintaining the light are only leavened by Griffiths’s fervour for the power of the ocean, which sees him fearlessly undertake trips to the rocks below to fish and collect provisions. When disaster strikes the inflexible Howell must take on all the responsibility to keep the beam sweeping out over the dark waves, something which he begins to imagine is scaring away rescuers. 

He wants to escape – to fly from his precarious, perilous perch towards land with the migrating birds that Griffiths anticipated. In his nightmarish surroundings will his resolve and dedication to the lamp hold as in his feverish mind he starts to wonder, if there were no light would there also be no rocks?

The tale is simply but ingeniously told with little more than a ladder, a couple of chairs and a trapdoor to conjure up the confines of The Smalls and the mountainous ocean beyond in ways which are often visually striking. Inspired by actual happenings it’s clearly a perfect vehicle for a two-man show. Actually, after those events of 1801 a third man was added to lighthouse rosters and here it’s the additional musician and effects artist who keeps the show off the rocks. 

The synergy of the actors’ mime and motions with accompanying sound effects makes them shine. With a little more nuance and polish the show would be truly outstanding but it’s initially light to the point of looking like children’s theatre and the dreamlike sequences of the latter part don’t allow the narrative or emotional content to fully develop. 

Having said that, if you can allow yourself to be transported to this atmospheric outcrop, to stand at the edge of the world and at the border of sanity, it will prove a memorable experience.

4-30 (not 11 or 18) August 2010, 4.00pm.

£10 (£8.50). £11 (£9.50) Fridays-Sundays.