An Inch Past Its Life
In its opening moments Nancy Harris’s "The Beacon" cleverly punctures artistic pretension. A wise move, for despite several splodges of ideas being toyed with, “The Beacon” delivers a light entertainment, old style crime drama. The kind Agatha Christie excelled at, Harris not so much. With its troubled family having hidden secrets and missing bodies on a remote island, replete with a selfish artist, secret lovers, and a sleazy investigative journalist, all the elements are there, even if "The Beacon" aspires to something more. Yet if it flares with promise at times, it fails to generate continuous heat.
With returning son Colm, and his young wife Bonnie, looking to honeymoon at the family’s summer home on an island near Cork, old wounds and secrets rise to the surface. Colm, a surprisingly one tracked Marty Rea, is a permanent walking wound seeking answers regarding his father's disappearance many years before. Finding herself endlessly attacked by her estranged son, artist and mother, Beiv, a compelling Jane Brennan, endures like an intake of sighs stoically trying to hold it together. Ian-Lloyd Anderson as the islander Donal, a family friend with his own secrets, shines as a boy in love with a boy asking him to love him. Caught in the crossfire, new wife Bonnie, an over talkative young Yank in love with Beiv’s work, played by Rae Gray with delightful laconic ease, causes panic when she disappears following another heated argument, suggesting history is about to repeat itself. The arrival of a sleazy, true crime podcaster Ray, a winning Daniel Monaghan, opens up the promise of an interesting ending. But it all plays out to expectations with an unsurprising reveal. Despite a last minute backstory unconvincingly shoehorned in to try lend it all some depth and substance.
Harris’s mild meditations get off to a strong start, exploring family and ideas of the artist as responsible only to themselves. Yet it all fizzles away into a modest murder mystery as denouement follows denouement and characters explain everything to within an inch past its life. If Harris’s language is wonderfully textured, playing with smart observations and some wickedly clever humour, her tale of a family on the verge of a nervous break up can feel contrived, overly relying on heavy duty explanations to bring it all home. Throughout, director Garry Hynes elevates it all into something engaging, with Francis O’Connor's stunning set and James F. Ingalls superlative lighting doing the visual heavy lifting. Even if the suggestion of an artist’s life on display in some sort of performance art installation never really sells itself.
Visually impressive, with some top class performances, "The Beacon" resembles a high end Bugatti with the engine growling, reeving loudly and promising to go places. But if it shows an abundance of style, it rarely gets out of neutral, and then rarely any further than an argumentative first gear.
"The Beacon" by Nancy Harris, presented by Druid and Gate Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019, runs at The Gate Theatre until October 26.
For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 or Gate Theatre.