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Review: Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor (Park Theatre)

Review by Sam Waite

With December upon us, it makes perfect sense that this new play by Paul Morrissey is set during the weeks before Christmas. However, this is all the production has in common with lighter, more family-friendly fare going on around the country. Well acted and carefully staged, this is a show whose intention is to disarm and unsettle you. Though not always consistent, Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor quite often achieves this goal.

As they arrive to watch over and maintain the lighthouse on Eilean Mor, we are introduced to naïve Thomas, loose-canon Donald and long-defeated James. James has worked in and around this relatively new lighthouse since years before it was constructed, and just wants to get on with business and for the others' clash of personalities to simmer down and not make life harder.

James Ducat, the head wickie (a slang term for these lighthouse keepers) is played with an assured calmness by Ewan Stewart. A veteran of both stage and screen perhaps most recognised for a supporting role in Titanic, Stewart makes Ducat's world-weariness feel earned long before his backstory is clarified, and builds up his reactions beautifully when called on for more emotional openness in act two. Elsewhere Jamie Quinn brings subtle nuance to what could so easily be a variant on the archetype of a nerd without any practical experience. His Thomas Marshall, a fisherman and newbie wickie, is always game to help out while terrified of his new surroundings and trying to not let the others know it. Quinn excels in bringing different levels to this failure to hide his discomfort.

For me, Graeme Dalling gave the strongest performance of the evening. Another role which could have been played as a tired cliché, hard-drinking and sharp-tongued second-in-command Donald MacArthur is instead a masterclass in emotional balance. Dalling is always convincing in not only his performance, but his dynamic with his fellow actors. MacArthur and Marshall clash often but fall in and out of a confused alliance, sometimes affectionate and sometimes grudging. In Dalling’s hands, these changes never feel out of the blue and MacArthur’s more obvious, undisguised emotional still feel human and lived in.

Director Shilpa T-Hyland is, of course, to be commended for drawing such carefully calibrated performances out of her actors. In addition to this she also has a solid command over the movement of props and furniture throughout scenes, having her cast move things to and fro so as to set up for the next scene without awkward transitions or others having to enter silently to reset the room. Perhaps it is through her attention to detail that she manages on two or three separate occasions to pull off a jump-scare without drawing a groan or eye/toll. This attention to detail and effective use of the setting and set itself are shared by sound designer Nik Paget-Tomlinson. Paget-Tomlinson makes this small, easily-crowded space feel real through the constant background noise of rain and waves, always some kind of water breaking the silence. These exterior sounds are never intrusive, and always feel as though they are surrounding the stage, imitating the entrapment felt by the characters.

The set clarifies the world instantly – a simple, cramped kitchen-cum-dining space with a curved brick wall to imply the circled walls of the lighthouse. Overhead and never used is a winding metal staircase, immediately instilling the idea of the lighthouse rising above the stage. This single room is where most of the story plays out, so the strength of the design was quickly reassuring.

The text itself is often great, the dialogue effective and believable and the banter shared either with or at the expense of the other men very funny. However, the narrative doesn't seem to build consistently. Nods towards the supernatural become more pointed and seemingly move towards more explanation, but a lot of the time on stage is simply the three men going about their business and becoming increasingly emotional from a lack of sleep. The more outright hints towards this being a supernatural thriller are less successful, sometimes feeling out of place later on in the story and building to a questionable payoff.

Despite my issues with the story’s pacing and payoff (I won't give anything away, but I didn't feel overly satisfied with what was revealed) I can't fault much else about this production. Unfortunately my issue with the pacing and presentation of the overall story must be reflected here, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy this piece. Appearing as a world premiere, I hope to see a future for this play and suspect a future production would be something truly astonishing. For now, this is a stellar production of a play which could use some fine-tuning.


Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor plays at Park Theatre until 31st December. Tickets from

Photos by Pamela Raith

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