Review: The Lighthouse

The English Touring Opera’s autumn 2012 season includes The Lighthouse, a story based on real events in the Orkney port of Stromness. A supply ship pulled in at a lighthouse to find the keepers had vanished, with no sign of disturbance. Davies’ imagination transports us through mysterious speculation as to what could have caused the men to disappear.

The first act, a mere twenty minutes, acts as a prologue, with the three singers playing the suppliers who discover the deserted lighthouse. They are being interviewed and respond to pauses in the music, each giving their own version of the same evidence – a fallen chair and broken cup. The music is so discordant and rhythmically difficult that it is impressive that the singers manage to keep time. Yet this seems appropriately confusing, putting the audience in the role of  questioner as we try to make sense of jarring information. This brief act’s introduction to the trio’s powerful voices – particularly Richard Mosley-Evans’ soulful, rounded bass – leaves the audience wanting more.

In the second act, the three cast members become the keepers who disappeared. Mosley-Evans is the devout holy man Arthur, who suffers a severe personality clash with Blazes (Nicholas Merryweather, baritone) and the hopelessly romantic Sandy (Adam Tunnicliffe, tenor). Tunnicliffe’s voice appeals more in this act, his solo lament to his love on solid land gorgeously delivered. Merryweather impresses with Davies’ clever lyrical folk composition, which suits his character entirely. His illness develops drastically and clearly, and the tragedy that evolves through this and all three character’s incessant boredom and cabin fever is very engaging.

The piece explores what it is like to be consumed by entrapment, what it takes to push man to return to his animal instincts, and the paramount need to survive. This is thoroughly supported by an epic, complex score that envelopes the audience. Ted Huffman confirms he is more than competent at directing a diverse, emotive piece that challenges yet keeps precision and clarity. Neil Irish’s set design uses the space fantastically – despite its size, the sparsity of props maintains an intimacy required to experience the ensemble’s entrapment.

The orchestra are neat, and the wonderfully atmospheric sounds of battering wind and heavy air work well with the singers to develop tension. It’s an intriguing story and, at just 95 minutes, definitely worth catching – especially if you’ve never seen an opera before.

The Lighthouse is part of the English Touring Opera’s 2012 season. For more information on tour dates and to book tickets, see the English Touring Opera website.

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