A cold night, a stone cottage on a Cumbrian moor, a chill wind and a murder mystery. Glenn Chandler is best known as the writer of the long-running Scottish TV police procedural series Taggart and his The Lamplighters initially seems to be treading that same well-worn path. Suddenly though, it veers off into very different territory, providing a superior psychological study of the far-reaching effects of a miscarriage of justice.
Frank (Mark Forester-Evans), John (Shane Armstrong) and Alan (Stewart Marquis) are former police officers who were involved in investigating the murder of a woman and her two young children on the moors, not far from Frank's family cottage.
Every year on the anniversary of the murder, the three meet to revisit the crime scene, and every year they find a wreath laid at the spot where the brutal murders took place. With the initial suspect released on appeal after ten years' imprisonment, the case remains unsolved, and the detectives are left to confront their actions and their guilt in how they handled the case, a case which resulted in them losing their jobs.
Forester-Evans, Armstrong and Marquis are totally convincing as the drunk (Frank), the bully (John) and the stroke victim (Alan). Stereotypes of hard-nosed cops they may be, but The Lamplighters goes beneath this to explore their human failings. These failings are brought into sharp focus by the arrival of Jo, a crime historian, played by Tara Howard with a cool detachment and Billy Tuttle, a young man who has also been visiting the crime scene. Scott Oswald is quite brilliant as Billy, all nervy vulnerability and clearly keeping secrets he has yet to reveal.
The dialogue between the three men crackles with authenticity. There's a bit too much exposition, especially in the second act when, ostensibly for Alan's benefit, John gives a quick-fire and lengthy recap of everything that has happened. While this could be said to fit with John's rapidly deteriorating emotional state, it does jar and provokes a giggle from the audience at what is otherwise a serious moment. And Frank repeats that he'd forgotten Jo was coming far more times than is really necessary, even if his drinking is causing short-term memory loss.
David Shields' set, the untidy and disgustingly dirty kitchen of the solitary drunk, provides the perfect chilly atmosphere, as does Richard Lambert's lighting and the eerie music. With excellent performances, and a great twist, this is definitely a production worth braving the chill Spring weather for.
- Carole Gordon