Set in a sea-view cottage on an island off the Southern coast of Ireland, The Beacon immediately plunges the spectator in its atmosphere before it even begins. The set, simply yet beautifully designed by Francis O’Connor, shows that an artist occupies the place: tubes of paint and other material is scattered on the slightly messy stage. Most of all, an element catches the eye: a vibrant abstract painting, enhanced by the way it’s lit, is standing on stage, waiting to be seen and understood.
It is in this set that The Beacon’s story slowly unfolds, at first like a rather classical family drama. Beiv (Jane Brennan), an independent and contemporary artist, is visited by her moody grown-up son Colm (Marty Rea) and his new American wife, the young Bonnie (Rae Gray). Colm finds himself overwhelmed by his past as he meets his old childhood friend Donal (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) and some drowned secrets begin to resurface.
The characters reveal themselves mixing a dark sense of humour and a deeper dimension that is full of chilling mystery. Most of the time appearing as pairs, they allow the spectator to feel as they are in the cottage with them, laughing when we see the hyperactive Bonnie awkwardly trying to bond with her unresponsive mother-in-law, or holding our breath when we understand the nature of Colm and Donal’s relationship.
Indeed, the play seems to rely on our attachment to the characters and develops a strong bond between them and the audience. Although some of The Beacon’s scenes may lack rhythm and dramatic tension, it interestingly makes us eager to discover the characters’ buried past as well as their near future, as the changing colours of the sky signifies the time passing. The characters are all very well written and acted, and their costumes (also designed by Francis O’Connor) discreetly express each of the characters’ personality. Ian-Lloyd Anderson particularly stands out as the amorous and hurt Donal, and makes him the most touching character.
If the tension never ceases to build in an incredible way throughout the play, the story’s outcome is somehow disappointing. Nevertheless, the ending is saved by the acting and our emotional link to the characters. In a whirlwind of emotions, we look at the painting with Colm, while it seems to let all its mysteries out and we drown with him in waves of not-so-abstract emotions and colours.