Outside in the Pleasance Courtyard the weather is suitably biblical, the sky grim, the rain falling in torrents. This onslaught of water is a good scene-setter for the Plasticine Men’s nuanced two-hander.
Keepers is a piece of considerable charm. Set in the early 19th century, it concerns two lighthouse keepers, both called Thomas, and their life of routine and isolation. They are the men who keep the light shining and help steer ships away from the rocks. It is vital work, life or death, and the might of the sea, its sheer animal force, is very well-conveyed; the sea is a thing to be feared and respected – it dominates their lives.
One Thomas is fastidious and duty-orientated, while the other is dreamier and romantic, more easily distracted. He’s endearingly excited by his surroundings and delighted by the sight of birds; he pays little heed to the local superstitions about the souls of men lost at sea. Their relationship is fractious but not hostile and, by its very nature, intimate; they need one another.
This is small show in many ways, but not a thin one. Using only a few props – a couple of chairs, a ladder – the performers conjure up the world of the lighthouse completely. The attention to detail is beautiful and the combination of mime and live sound effects are so convincing that at times it almost tricks the senses into believing that there is glass in the windows, that there are vast waves crashing against the walls.
Based on a true story of the events at Smalls Lighthouse in Pembrokeshire (an incident that led to a new policy being introduced about the manning of lighthouses), the narrative is fragmented and occasionally opaque, but the tragic conclusion, when it comes, is genuinely unsettling. The physicality of Martin Bonger and Fionn Gill’s performances is a delight and care has clearly been taken over their every movement.
This is a delicate, graceful piece of theatre, the subtleties of which occasionally get swallowed up by the venue. Yet what the piece lacks in narrative thrust and dramatic clarity, it more than makes up for in atmosphere and there is something incredibly satisfying about seeing a world, albeit a small one, so wholly realised.
Reviewed for musicOMH