Wickies: The Vanishing Men of Eilean Mor at Park Theatre – review
A spooky thriller at the Park Theatre
In 2020, when the world was in lockdown, Nathan Evans, a young postal worker from a town near Glasgow, posted a video of himself singing a sea shanty on TikTok and became an overnight sensation. Sea shanties comfort people in long periods of isolation – that is their purpose for sailors out at sea. I have seen few plays post-lockdown that relate to that isolation we all experienced.
Wickies is a rare find in that regard – it is a story of three sea-shanty-loving lighthouse workers who, by the nature of their job, are isolated from the mainland for months on end, trying not to lose their sanity. Doesn't it sound familiar?
Ewan Stewart, Graeme Dalling and Jamie Quinn play the three wickies (aka lighthouse keepers) on the remote Flannan Isles, to the west of the Outer Hebrides. Thomas Marshall (Quinn) is new to the job – a fresh-faced young fisherman who's come to replace a sick wickie for a few months. Played with a bubbly, naïve energy, Thomas is given a baptism by fire courtesy of violent, ominous Donald MacArthur (Dalling), who scares him on his first night with ghost stories about the apparently haunted locale. Lead keeper James Ducat (Stewart) is wizened by years of experience – throughout a consistently delicate, nuanced performance, he scorns the ghostly rumours, but Thomas, whom they mockingly call "the bairn", cannot sleep from that night onwards, and without any of them realising it, his fear begins to creep under all of their skins.
Based on a true story, Paul Morrissey's mystery-laden second play for the Park Theatre, after last year's ghost story When Darkness Falls, builds ever so subtly – it starts with an incessant wind howling, and before you know it, there are little rattling noises, preceding crashing waves. Small, well-timed jump scares snap you to attention just as the atmosphere turns dark and cosy. It feels like a ghost story told round a fireside on a cold winter's night.
Coming into the Park Theatre foyer is initially a homely welcome from the chilly winter street outside. Inside the auditorium however, the soft, shadowy, haze-filled lighting, the musical drones and the flashes of white noise makes your hairs stand on end. The cold of the Outer Hebrides starts to seep "into your bones", as it does for Thomas and the other wickies.
Much is kept hidden. We only see the lighthouse kitchen with a ladder leading up to the exposed first floor. Pots and pans, a wooden table and a sink lend a lived-in sensation to the rounded brick walls. Except for a bit of rope, a small lens or a mackintosh, we never see the tools, the light or the kit of the keepers. Large, gaping holes of hesitation lie between the endless cups of coffee and swigs of alcohol. The writing and direction are subtle and understated; special effects are sewn sparsely and seamlessly into the narration and never become gimmicky.
Wickies is a juicy hunk of storytelling that whets your appetite and keeps you wanting more.