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The Lighthouse on Shivering Sands

J S Fletcher, adapted by Nobby Dimon
North Country Theatre in association with Harrogate Theatre
The Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond

Nobby Dimon, Simon Kirk and Vivienne Garnett
Mark Cronfield and Nobby Dimon
Mark Cronfield, Nobby Dimon, Simon Kirk

The Lighthouse on Shivering Sands is a delightful, salty folk tale full of lies and laughter written in the early 1900s by a man called J S Fletcher. He wrote, unusually, in the Yorkshire dialect and had completed over 200 books by the time he died in 1935. Impressively, and without the aid of any subsidy from Arts Council England, North Country Theatre director, Nobby Dimon, set about devising, dramatising and polishing Fletcher’s words into something that is very special indeed.

Dimon has captured the sea with a beautiful, pale blue backcloth expertly painted by Simon Pell and a lighthouse created with equal expertise from designer Richard Foxton. Because this is touring theatre with a new venue every day, the set must pack away into a company touring van, so it has the flavour of origami that folds and unfolds into two separate areas. Clever use of a turntable and superb attention to detail (look for the bolts dripping rust) make the cramped interior living quarters where three men must exist in very close quarters as well as outside of the grey lighthouse surrounded by the crashing North Sea.

We start with Sharky, a perfect Captain Birdseye character (Simon Kirk), complete with old sou'wester hat and a quirky ginger beard. He’s at the helm of the supply boat that visits the lighthouse every month to deliver supplies and exchange staff. Mordechai Chiddock is on board (a great performance from Mark Cronfield); he’s the new assistant keeper who is running away from a man who used to be his friend but now wants to kill him. Old Sharky tells him of sinister goings-on and previous keepers going mad on the rock, as well as the eerie sounds of selkies crying. Chiddock isn’t concerned or scared. As long as he’s on the rock, he thinks he’ll be safe. That is, until he finds out that the other assistant keeper is none other than his murderous friend, Jezreel.

John Grayburn is the main lighthouse keeper, a lovely, looney jobsworth performance by Nobby Dimon. Grayburn hasn’t set foot on the mainland for 25 years since his wife Molly died. “She went for a swim,” he tells us, “and she never came back; it’s all in the log.” When Grayburn learns he has two men who want to kill each other, he comes up with a plan to keep the men apart until the supply boat returns to relieve him of his burden. As judge, jury and jailer he listens to their captivating stories.

A salty Simon Kirk concocts Jezreel’s story that involves his suicidal wife, his infant daughter Tess and stolen money, while Chiddock has another version of the story. Who to believe?

The other character is a grey seal, or perhaps it’s a selkie, or maybe even a mermaid, who swims constantly round the set, banging on the lighthouse door at high tide shouting "Let me in" but the three keepers only think they hear her. An excellent Vivienne Garnett plays Mrs Cornish, a nun, a jezebel and Grayburn’s dead wife Molly.

This story unfolds into a real postmodern melodrama with a lovely twist at the end, which filled the theatre with laughter and will surely delight every audience as it sets off to encompass 50 small village venues.

For details and ticket information visit : http://www.northcountrytheatre.com/

Reviewer: Helen Brown