Monday 5th December 2022 at Park Theatre, London
Reviewer: Issy Flower
1900. On the Flannan Islands, three men are preparing to man the lighthouse at Eilean Mor. By the 26th of December, all three will be lost, having disappeared from their post in mysterious circumstances. Paul Morrissey’s Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor explores how and why this disappearance might have happened, attempts to dig into the psychologies of men who choose the position of lightkeeper, and provide a suitably spooky ‘Ghost Story for Christmas’. Whilst not entirely successful on any count, there is enough tension and good performances here to hold the audience.
Our lighthouse keepers are recognisable types: Donald MacArthur (Graeme Dalling) the angry drinker with a short temper; Thomas Marshall (Jamie Quinn) the incredibly naïve first-timer whose performance at times seems to come from a broader comedic take on the story; and James Ducat (Ewan Stewart), who has a secret pain behind his bluff exterior.
All three are good performances, with the best moments coming in the quietness, when Morrissey’s inclination to pad the performance with jokes receeds and instead he allows his characters to dig deep into their motivations. The three actors also do a great deal to sell the spookiness, especially Dalling who tells the central ghost stories in the first half and Stewart in creating an underlying sense of dread. The relationships between them, whilst occasionally static (going back and forth between ‘you’re a terrible person’ and ‘we may have something in common after all’) are believable.
It’s a shame, then, that the play doesn’t know quite what it wants to be. The attempts to build tension are often undercut with jokes, and a Woman-in-Black style spectre is used too sparingly to build a sense of antagonist. A couple of surprising jumps are dotted through but quickly lose their power in the lengthy script, which again and again returns to similar scenes of debate between the characters (and which isn’t helped by audience members desperate to tell everyone else that they laugh in the face of a jump scare).
Morrissey seems reluctant to lean into either a fully supernatural or fully empirical explanation, or whether he wants to write a memory play or live, real-time drama. These structural and thematic imbalances mean that tension is lost, the audience being held primarily by the strong acting of the leads.
Wickies is an enjoyable but underpowered drama. Too static to build tension, it is at its best when either leaning fully into the ghost story aesthetic or allowing its characters to discuss their motivations for taking such a strange job. Another radio-drama esque play from Park Theatre, the production succeeds in casting three fine actors who breathe life into an occasionally deadly script.
Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor is at Park Theatre until December 31st 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.
IMAGE CREDIT: Pamela Raith Photography