‘The Lighthouse Girl’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 1, 2017

‘The Lighthouse Girl’ is a stunning new work by WA award-winning playwright, Hellie Turner. The play is a merged adaption of Dianne Wolfer’s moving novels ‘Lighthouse Girl’ and ‘Light Horse Boy’. This emotively written play was commissioned by Rio Tinto, for Black Swan and the Albany Entertainment Centre, who in turn are grateful for the support from the ‘Department of Culture and the Arts’, and the ‘Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund’ through the ‘Department of Communication and the Arts’.

This World Premiere exemplifies an authoritative and truthful reminder for us all, of the Centenary of ANZAC, our involvement in the First World War and our resultant development as a nation.

Because most of the young men and nurses left our shores for the European frontline via Albany, the town is considered the birthplace of the ANZAC story; hence, the play started its run at the Albany Entertainment Centre – with a season extended, due to demand, before coming to Perth for a run at the State Theatre Centre.

This Black Swan Lab (part of the Black Swan State Theatre Company) production begins its season at the Studio Underground, in the State Theatre of WA, 174-176 William Street, Northbridge with shows until Sunday 14th May.

This 100-minute play starts at the earlier time of 7.00 pm.

 

It is 1914 near Albany. Centre stage is an exceptionally realistic looking, massive arched rock. Set designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait has also used the impressive arch as the light keeper’s front door. The furnishings are rustic, with some well-sourced props such as the desk and Morse tapper. The beach area, front of stage, doubles as various venues in Victoria. The illuminated rear wall depicts the criss-cross pattern of the lighthouse windows and lenses, revealing the bay view beyond. Stage manager was Hugo Aguilar López and his assistant was Claudia Blagaich.

Lighting designer, Joe Lui has managed to produce a continuous, even sweep of the lighthouse lamp, tricky over such a wide stage. Subtle light colours and subdued levels are all important on such a sensitive play; the mood created was perfect throughout. Likewise, Brett Smith’s soundscape was delicately handled, with just hints of international music blended with the wild weather effects.

 

     Since her mother died, and now in her mid-teens, the shy and naïve, Fay Howe (Daisy Coyle) has been brought up on the bleak, exposed Breaksea Island in King George Sound, situated to the east of Albany’s Middleton Beach. Raised and dearly loved by her father, Robert (Benj D’Addario), Fay has learnt many survival skills. Joe (Murray Dowsett), the lighthouse technician, also treats her as his grandchild. Despite all of the love, Fay has never had much contact with others of her age.

     The months go by, and then one day, the islanders learn that war has been declared on Germany. Being part of the British Empire, the Australians are now expected to help defend Britain.

       On the east coast of Australia, two youngsters have been pals for years. They have been ‘boring’ farmworkers since leaving school, and have decided that they need more excitement in their lives. Although still under 18, they look older and manage to enlist as soldiers in the Light Horse Brigade. Alice Finch (Alex Malone) threatens her younger brother, Jim (Will McNeill), that she will reveal his true age to the authorities. The other lad, Charlie (Giuseppe Rotondella), has been without a proper family most of his life; but he is a first class farrier and so is welcomed into the Army without question. They travel to Melbourne, then sail through Port Phillip Bay as they set off for Albany.

       A young, enthusiastic reporter and freelance photographer, Frank (Nick Maclaine), lands on the lighthouse island to capture on film, the dozens of troupe ships that are gathering in the Sound prior to setting off on their life-changing trip to Europe.

       During her courageous contribution to the war effort, Fay manages to communicate with ship-bound Charlie; although they have never met, her life is about to change from being a child, to that of a young woman.

The costume designer, Lynn Ferguson, had a particularly difficult task; having to research the general styles of the costal folk a hundred years ago, coupled with the specific uniforms of the fighting men – right down to their leather spats.

Director Stuart Halusz and dramaturge Polly Low have captured the essence of the story perfectly. The script dialogue is truly a work of art, richly capturing each of the characters perfectly. The story starts with a loving, lonely household in the middle of nowhere, where a tough day would be not catching enough rabbits for dinner. Gradually, the director slips in the tension and stress of the war. This vision of the war is not meaningless gunshots, blood and gore, but a most sensitive study of several very different people at the start of a world war, and their involvement in this painful period of our history. You subconsciously find yourself part of the lighthouse family, and that of the misguided young men. So brilliant was this perceptive play, that its subtle handling brought a genuine tear to my eye.

Daisy Coyle is an amazing, exciting, and valuable find; her face and body language could convey a thousand emotions. The two stable hands exhibited all their feelings, from mad enthusiasm through to deep fear; but once again it was the subtlety of the acting and direction that won the hearts of the audience. The whole cast had a warmth that just permeated the air.

This is a truly beautiful play, sensitive and so true to life; guaranteed to grab your emotions.