DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Light House – The Grove Hall, South Kirkby

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer/Performer: Alys Williams

Director: Andrea Heaton

The Light Housedepends to a large extent on the bond between performer and audience. For one thing, Alys Williams must have co-opted half the Grove Hall audience for everything from echoing her shout of “Man overboard!” to strolling by the Seine or engaging in a dance routine. All the volunteers are, incidentally, very good. But the second way is to use the play as a weapon in the war against mental illness – to the extent of opening up a table after the play for messages or seeking support. Andrea Heaton writes about getting stuck in our own little bubbles: “Maybe, just for an hour, we can do it together.”

The honesty and authenticity of the autobiographical script and Alys Williams’ ability to engage with the audience removes any sense of over-earnestness: at times, in fact, the script is painfully raw, but that doesn’t stop Williams’ sense of fun emerging now and again.

The stage is set up, with lanterns, different levels, ropes and so on to give an approximation of the deck of a ship while, at the same time, containing props for Williams’ story which is the story of a loved one’s mental illness told, in part, through the metaphor of a shipwreck and lighthouses.

Initially Williams goes through the protocol for “man overboard”, drilling her audience volunteers in shouts and whistles. After a while the character of Nathan appears, played by an anglepoise lamp or an audience member. Williams is charmingly vague as to what the attraction is, though a meeting in Paris leads to her asking whether they should get married. He moves to Dublin, they correspond, then word comes that he has been discovered on the brink of throwing himself off a bridge.

From hereon in the story is of getting proper medical treatment for Nathan, with the conceit of trying out the “man overboard” protocol as a template for coping. Williams permits herself the odd barb about the system which seems no better in Ireland than in the UK: Nathan is left unattended for five hours on admission, a new psychiatrist welcomes him and confirms his appointment for August, this in April! But above all this is a story of love, by Williams certainly, but by all the other family and friends involved. At the end she can emphasise that the light of one lamp for your light-house is simply not enough.

Williams’ performance is remarkable, operating simultaneously in the here and now and in memories. Heaton matches her every mood with sensitivity and the music which is near-continuous creates a telling atmosphere.

Reviewed on 24rd February 2024, then on tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

Sensitive and poignant

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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