REVIEW: Beacons @ Devonshire Park Theatre

March 3, 2020


By Tabitha Mortiboy

Directed By Samuel Clemens

Julie sells ice cream on the cliffs at Beachy Head and searches for love online. Her friend Bernard walks the clifftops and can’t seem to settle. When sixteen-year old Skye arrives for the summer, the lives of all three become unexpectedly entangled and they are confronted with the ghosts of the past.

Tabitha Mortiboy’s  play tells of love, loss and midnight ice cream sundaes under the starlit skies of the South Downs and approaches the contraction of Beachy Head, head on. Beachy Head is a place of breathtaking beauty, exhilarating vistas, escapism and freedom. It is also, sometimes, a place of loneliness and desperation. I imagine if you live in Eastbourne this dichotomy is stitched into the fabric of the city.  The cliffs loom over the place,  ancient, monumental, unfeeling.  I always think about the more morbid fascination of the place to those who wish to end their lives when I’m up there, it’s part of the place.

Beacons is a gentle piece of theatre, which explores the interwoven lives of it’s three protagonists.  Although like mirrors reflecting the fierce light, everything revolves around Julie, played with a delicate warmth by Moira Brooker,  who, like the eponymous lighthouse hold the center ground and guides the others home.  The first half is all set-up and relationship building and it seems like everything is cosy, although the sonorous sound track suggests a deeper, darker theme at play in this domestic tweeness. Director Samuel Clemens brings some lovely warm and engaging performances from all the cast, allowing Steven Pinder and Polly Jordan to give us a tender exploration of how the loss of hope can transform a person.

The second half, without giving away the plot, examines the impact of Beachy Head and it’s dark pull on the despairing of hope, and how that can play out on the people who are left behind. Those who turn away, find last minute hope or who commit some of their time to intervene and try and assist folk.  Author Mortiboy weaves these themes together with a plot that is wound up with it’s own tension and gently unwinds itself,  into a safe place where tensions have been allowed to breath, fears are voiced and opportunities are grasped at.

Breakdown can be breakthrough and freedom comes from having nothing left to loose, this play explores both sides of Beachy Head in a tender domestic trio of interwoven and interdependent lives, but like the lighthouse itself, offering a beacon of hope on a storm tossed sea bestrewn with dangerous currents and treacherous rocks.

It’s always darkest at the foot of the lighthouse and this play throws a little crepuscular light on those who’ve been to the edge and back, and the different reasons which take them back there.

The set and lighting are delicate and work well, suggesting change of season and time of day the soundtrack is like a melodic foghorn, announcing itself and keeping the emotional edge in focus.  It’s like a fourth character, perhaps the sound of the cliffs themselves, redolent of bells, processional and ritual.

The use of projections is a heady way of experiencing the dramatic edges and sheer terrifying heights of the cliffs there and this works very well.  Some dreamy drone footage is also used, a seagulls eye view of the cliffs, rendering them massive, stunning and magnificent in their vastness. There were a few noticeable missed queues in the acting but as these characters are so low key and folksy it’s forgivable and didn’t detract too much from this engaging piece of theatre.

Once the play is done there’s a short info film about the work of the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team (BHCT). A charity working in crisis intervention and suicide prevention at Beachy Head and referenced with one of the main characters of the play.  The statistics of how many incidents they attend at Beachy Head, more than 1000 a year are shocking.  You can learn more about BHCT here: 

Until Web 4th March 

for more info or to book tickets see the Devonshire Park website here