Despite the recent news that he is undergoing a second course of chemotherapy following the re-emergence of his leukaemia, Peter Maxwell Davies, former master of the Queen’s music, gallantly joined the cast and creatives – almost all drawn from the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists scheme – for applause at the first night of this short run.
Davies’ The Lighthouse is an unsettling, claustrophobic and supernatural piece based on the unexplained disappearance of three keepers from an Outer Hebrides lighthouse in 1900. In part one, the three cast members play the three supply-ship officers who arrive at the abandoned lighthouse, the action intercutting between their individual examinations in an Edinburgh courtroom and their arrival at the remote lighthouse; part two goes back further still, following the keepers themselves: their boredom, bickering and ghostly hallucinations.
Alyson Cummins’ bare set, misty and darkly lit, is effective but could do even more to heighten the sense of claustrophobia. David Shipley, as bible-bashing Arthur, has a capacious bass and an eloquent expression of outward stoicism. Samuel Sakker (Sandy) is winningly lyrical in his upper range and moves seamlessly into falsetto; he comes into his own in his mildly erotic music-hall aria, accompanied by cello and pub-style piano. Yuriy Yurchuk (Blazes) left us in no doubt that he is the roughest of the three keepers.
However, the singers couldn’t always compete with the ensemble in the pit, leading to some masking of the words. If the drama acquires more dark intensity and the playing beds down some more, this will be a very powerful production.