The Beacon – Gate Theatre – Review
by Conor O’Carroll
The Beacon runs at the Gate Theatre until the 26th October.
The setting is an island off the west coast of Ireland. The artist Beiv (Jane Brennan) lives in a stone cottage that is undergoing renovation work. Her son Colm (Marty Rea) who lives in San Francisco has just arrived with his new American wife Bonnie (Rae Gray) on their honeymoon. Donal (Ian-Lloyd Anderson), a local and childhood friend of Colm, is doing the renovation work. Very quickly long-standing family and other relationship issues surface and there is a constant stand-off between Beiv and Colm. There is a cloud over the death of Beiv’s ex-husband that dominates the storyline. The past constantly bubbles up with stories of Beiv running an artists’ commune and the mystery surrounding the death. Local gossip makes wild associations and is fed by the on-line commentary.
This new play is a co-production by Druid and the Gate Theatre. The play was written by Nancy Harris and was directed by Gary Hynes. Harris adapted the Red Shoes which was produced by the Gate Theatre in 2018.
At one level this is a play about the D4 set who spend their summers in the west of Ireland and how they interact with the locals. The legacy they leave through their relationships and the death of Beiv’s ex-husband resonates through the play. It seems an idyllic setting in a converted stone cottage with full length glass windows that look out over the ocean. The centre piece is a large painting of vibrant reds that has a wide range of interpretations by the characters from a vulva to a blood orange and also a splodge of paint!
The set was designed by Francis O’Connor and really conveys the environment. It is in a word spectacular as it evokes the seaside artist retreat with light streaming through a wall length glass window. The half-finished nature of the renovation reflects unfinished business between the characters.
Colm is the successful emigrant living in San Francisco and returning with his new wife Bonnie on their honeymoon. However, it becomes clear very quickly that he still has some unresolved issues with his mother Beiv. Bonnie plays the part of the open American who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a family dispute. Donal is the local who still harbours resentment towards Colm but is close to Beiv. The presence of the journalist Ray (Dan Monaghan) seems a bit random and is part of an unlikely plot development.
The cast are superb in their roles as they have a wide range of emotions to reveal. Marty Rea displays his talent in oscillating between the confident accomplished computer professional and a deeply angry and troubled individual. Jane Brennan plays a character that has dealt with many issues and remains stoic in the face of troubling events. Bonnie is an innocent, trying hard, but caught in the middle of deep emotional disputes. Ian-Lloyd Anderson as Donal shows raw emotion and his complex relationship with Colm and Beiv.
The title of the play refers to a local landmark that was part of a series of such beacons built in the 18th century to warn sailors of hazards and bring them safely to shore. Throughout the play we see the characters looking to others as beacons but, rather than being saved, are dashed on the rocks of stormy relationships. The play is over 2 hours long and provides the time for the characters to reveal their true nature and for the story to slowly unfold. The first Act retains a level of barbed humour but quickly descends into darker territory in the second. While the plot can seem quite contrived at times, the cast make up for this short fall with some strong performances.
Cast Includes: Ian-Lloyd Anderson, Jane Brennan, Rae Gray, Daniel Monaghan, and Marty Rea
Director – Garry Hynes
Set & Costume Designer – Francis O’Connor
Lighting Designer – James F. Ingalls
Sound Designer – Gregory Clarke
Fight Director – James Cosgrave