Beachy Head in Eastbourne is one of the world’s most popular suicide spots. You could say the site evokes a sense of mystery, a magnetic pulling-force; that the danger puts you face to face with death and beauty. Attic Theatre Company’s Beacons places us right at the edge of the cliff, eavesdropping on the lives of the locals trying to prevent the future jumps.
Julie runs an ice-cream van by day and patrols the cliff by night. Business is dead-quiet as summer ebbs out apart from the company of ex-hobo Bernard and the young Sky who’re helping out as distractions from her troubled home-life. Sky is desperate for human connection and clings to these new parental figures. Julie tries her luck with online dating after years of loneliness. And Bernard secretly pines for her.
Beacons is a slow burn as we gradually creep under the skin of the characters until revelation hits. It’s a lot of talk and little action, like a Chekhovian summer’s day of sharing without all the whining. We grow to love them this way, particularly Paul Kemp’s Bernard who’s like a big teddy bear. He is full of warmth with a hint of sadness, who you can’t help but adore and pity. Tessa Peake-Jones’ Julie is strongminded and very empathetic, though perhaps slightly pushy in frustration at times. Emily Burnett plays Sky with a bubbly sweetness and rapid energy, though her eventual unravelling could be a little less shrill. That said, the actors work very well off each other and create a little bubble of connection and humour that wraps around us like a blanket and makes us want to live side-by-side with them for a little longer.
That is the overall sensation of Tabitha Mortiboy’s play. It’s a fraction of human relations, and there’s something incredibly sweet, gentle and almost fable-like about it. It warms the heart as we watch them struggle with love, loss and loneliness. Tom Rogers’ naturalistic design makes sure we are emerged in the world and focusing on the exchanges between these characters. It’s a piece about the words, about what’s said and unsaid between people and how affection lives like a faint flame growing stronger. Philip Wilson’s direction is subtle and clear, and the movement of the piece is dynamic though we miss a few moments with blocked sightlines.
Beacons is a sweet insight to love and the feeling of belonging with someone. It puts the suicide reality into a very personal and moving piece that might not shake the grounds but surely makes you smile.
Beacons is playing at Park Theatre until 16 April. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website
Photo: Scott Rylander