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October 1, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Review – The Keepers

By Thread Theatre

The Keepers is a devised work that uses the event of a shipwrecked survivor to look at the transitory nature of places and people while creating a world full of lingering and surprising images.

The set is cluttered and bare at once. Boxes and chests litter the set and a ring of thick rope, drawn into a semicircle by Luna, encloses the world of the lighthouse from the sea. We find two bodies, prostrate on the floor of the theatre. These two women become our central characters; Nina played by Julia Croft, the shipwrecked girl in white, and Margaret played by Veronica Brady, the brown-skirt-clad keeper of the lighthouse.

Margaret seems focused, determined and hardened, cutting wood and eating salt by the spoonful. Her woollen brown skirt and rolled sleeves are testament to her tough nature. She moves with pace and purpose, striking in her gestures and sure in her action. In contrast, the flimsy Nina in fluid white dresses and undergarments moves with more grace. Nina delicately presents us with lipstick and sighs. To her the lighthouse world is new, making a living through fishing and chores seem foreign to her, and she gives over to mischief.

There are beautiful, often transformative images that make up this world. A hanging light bulb is used as the search light of a lighthouse, as the actor slowly circles it around her head, leaning outwards and peering into the dark. Fish are scooped from the sea by the cast flailing their hands then quickly shoving their ‘catches’ into metal pails. Small bits of paper are given the fluttering quality of moths or butterflies, while the soundscape of blowing into a microphone creates the steady ebb and flow of the tide, waves crashing onto a beach. At one point, Nina brings out a lipstick and draws a window on the rear wall, changing the space to a bedroom in one simple gesture. This world is stunning in the way it finds poetry in little things. Margaret pours salt onto the ground from a height; the way it falls and piles on the ground is as mesmerising in the dim light as the noises it makes as she crushes it beneath her shoes.

However, through both confusion in the narrative and its unearned emotional climaxes, this show did not capture my empathy for the characters. Therefore in the moment of the storm, where Margaret is caught in mesh netting and screaming for her life, the action gave in to bathos. Primarily was the narrative. I was able to clock the main story from Nina’s arrival and how her stay affected Margaret and how Nina was affected by the lighthouse, culminating in her attempt to escape back to the sea. Yet some images, while beautiful, were confusing, almost nonsensical. And occasionally in moments where we are clearly expected to empathise with a character I felt that we hadn’t been given sufficient reason to do so.

The lighting design complements this drowned world, a soft glowing sphere and small spotlights indicating the restricted areas of land and the vast sea. The transformative use of the music also creates seagull calls by rubbing the cello strings, something that I personally found delightful, although I was confused by the awkward combination of live music and recorded music.

Claire Cowan’s musical skill is phenomenal, at times intensifying the action through the haunting and beautiful music created through her cello, violins, spoons and piano accordion. Her character, Luna, affected changes to the people around her, manipulating their physical gestures thus amplifying their emotions but always acting as an invisible assistant. Her power over Nina and Margaret was always handled with care but without question. We see Margaret as a keeper of the lighthouse and Luna as a keepers of change; however the only things keeping my attention were the well- crafted images and the mystery of the place, not the characters and not the plot.

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