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The Lighthouse review at Hackney Showroom, London – ‘nerve-shredding’

Paul Curievici, Pauls Putnins and Owain Browne in The Lighthouse at Hackney Showroom, London. Photo: Nick Rutter

Peter Maxwell Davies’ violent, unsettling tale of three lighthouse keepers who disappear in mysterious circumstances is especially intense in the modestly-proportioned Hackney Showroom. Trapped in a confined space with a vigorous 12-piece orchestra and three male singers, the tension for the audience becomes almost unbearable.

The young Shadwell Ensemble, conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear, gives a raw, sometimes overwhelming account of a score ranging from brutal 20th-century modernism to pastiche music-hall tunes.

It’s not just the big brass and percussion effects that assault the senses – the strobe of the lighthouse beam and flashes of lightning batter the eyeballs and a queasy rocking effect is created by projecting the movement of water in a fish tank onto a screen. The set focuses on a central ring containing a kitchen table, ankle-deep in water, where the three keepers slosh around and wrestle with their inner demons.

Pauls Putnins plays the driven preacher Arthur, his magnificent bass full of blood and thunder; baritone Owain Browne is Blazes, whose gruesome song reveals he is both abused and an abuser. The most affecting of the three is boyish tenor Paul Curievci as Sandy – his cliched love song arouses tenderness in his two companions. They embrace in a rare moment of cameraderie before their crazy visions drive them towards their hellish fate.

Like  “the horror!” in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the audience is left with a feeling of dread, but no clear idea of who dunnit, or what was done. It doesn’t matter – Furness and Downie Dear have created a spine-chilling setting for this operatic shaggy dog story.

A nerve-shredding performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ violent, haunting one-act opera


The Lighthouse
Hackney Showroom
November 3, 2017
November 12, 2017
Press night
November 3, 2017
Peter Maxwell Davies
Jack Furness
Finnegan Downie Dear
Alex Berry
Daniel Spreadborough
Stage manager
Zoe Elsmore
Production manager
Ryan Watson
Cast includes
Paul Curievici, Owain Browne, Pauls Putnins
Shadwell Opera
Running time
1hr 30mins