Before we had planes, mobile phones and GPS, we had ships, pirates and lighthouses. Many months’ journey away from civilisation, we find two lighthouse keepers expecting a quiet few weeks of fishing, keeping the signal going, and reading while they await the return of their supply ship. So when they are attacked by a band of pirates, there is no help at hand – and it’s a fight to survive, see justice done and carry out their duty.
The pirates murder one of the lighthouse attendants, driving the other into hiding. But with the light out, a ship is wrecked on the reef, and the sole survivor unites with the lighthouse keeper as they elude the pirates on the small island. All being well, the supply ship will return in a few weeks – but can the pair stop the pirates escaping before help arrives? More to the point, can they evade the scoundrels, and keep from starving until then? And the threats aren’t just external: close quarters and isolation would test any relationship, and this idea is brilliantly explored as the characters hide for longer and longer.
This adaptation by Not Cricket Productions has really considered pace: opening on the two men quietly reading and cleaning, we are slowed right down to the speed of life at the lighthouse and given time to admire the subtle yet thematic maps and drawings on the walls. The scenery and props are minimalist, but I found I could almost see the cave, the thick overgrowth, the ropes and the schooner above. This feeling was enhanced by the cast doing things as simple as ducking under the ‘ropes’ they've just tied.
I particularly appreciated the inclusion of sea songs from the period – well sung and appropriate to the context – and a more gender-balanced cast than is found in the original novel. On the other hand, some parts of the dialogue felt a little forced; I found one character’s speech rather oddly worded, and some parts, particularly from the lieutenant, were too quiet to hear clearly.
It is very difficult to adequately show in the space of just an hour how weeks of close quarters can build friendship or tension – and while sometimes it did seem a little jumpy, overall the comparisons were very well done. So this is a clever adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, focused in both its staging and character development. Months pass in the play, but the hour will definitely sail by.