Park Theatre, London – until 31 December 2022
It’s misty and cold in the Park Theatre’s main auditorium. An oppressive half-light frames the stage where the tale of the lost lighthouse keepers (the ‘wickies’) of Eilean Mor will soon unfold. Based on a real mystery from 1900, Paul Morrissey’s play is full of atmosphere, foreboding and storytelling.
Young Thomas Marshall (Jamie Quinn), an affable and talkative fisherman with a young wife and two children at home, comes to stand-in for an ailing man. The two seasoned keepers (cynical Donald MacArthur, played by Graeme Dalling; and seasoned James Ducat, by Ewan Stewart), give a cautious welcome as strange things start to happen, the storm rages and tensions soar.
With a ruined chapel and more than one ghostly curse, Eilean Mor seems the nearest outpost to hell. Tales of locked rooms, of sweeping seas, and mysterious apparitions fill the time.
The men make the most of it with drink, broth and sea shanties, but as one says, they are there to make “ships full of strangers” feel safe when they themselves are anything but. Why anyone would choose to come and work here is left unanswered, and the toll on a wickie’s mental health is clearly shown.
On a remote island, away from all humanity with only an occasional relief boat if weather is favourable, the fog and shadows can be suggestive, and stories told around the communal table can take on an enormity that keeps sleep at bay.
For these three men on a stag light (no families encouraged, just men) there is a monotony of work and an unspoken loneliness.
Director Shilpa T-Hyland and designer Zoé Hurwitz have crafted a sense of dread within an ordinary two-level space, dominated by the light “that must never go on” which burns far above.
With Nik Paget-Tomlinson’s sound offering an unsettling sense of danger and isolation, and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting having some very clever twists and turns, Wickies has the makings of a classic ghost tale, spooky and weird.
Swapping characters for those investigating the mystery by the sweep of a different coat, all three report on what they found and speculate on what might have happened.
Perhaps the three wickies lost their lives in an accident caused by the elements, but the illusions and tricks we have seen before leave us wondering.
Wickies is a well-written tale which is definitely slow to grow, building its web of tension and unease. It put me in mind at times of the storytelling seen in Conor McPherson’s The Weir, which recounts Irish folk-tales.
Here, Morrissey plays with more general supernatural tropes but also takes the wilds of the Outer Hebrides, beautiful but treacherous, to underline his point.
You can watch Wickies at the Park Theatre until 31 December, and it may prove a good choice if you’re looking for an alternative to panto or Scrooge. Book your tickets here.
Image credit: Pamela Raith
Find another review of a ghostly tale at the Park Theatre here.
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