Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Lighthouse written by Nigel Fairs and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned. A lighthouse in the middle of a thunderstorm. Newly weds Nick and Suzy are planning to renovate the lighthouse. But the old building is haunted by a horrific past

Icy Investigator: Truly exposing himself as inhuman Steel witnesses a brutal murder and all he has to say is ‘interesting.’ He watches the Old Man bury the corpse casually. Whereas Sapphire tries to go for the softly softly approach trying to get the boys to confront their feelings it is Steel who understands that this has to end in death.

Almost Human: Sapphire is genuinely horrified by the events in this story. This isn’t time trying to stop clocks or haunt a man on a train, its pure unadulterated murder and it clearly frightens her. Time knew that Sapphire couldn’t bear the waste of life and it toyed with that fact.

Standout Performance: Where to begin? This is a small but stellar cast that give the material the terseness it deserves. Before the end of the disc Neil Savage will scare the shit out of you with his initially gentle but ultimately psychotic Old Man (its even scarier not knowing his name) who lures pretty young boys to his lighthouse and murders them. Joseph Young and Ian Hallard (who has impressed me in a number of Big Finish Doctor Who audios) play the tension between Adrian and Nicholas superbly, you really believe that these two used to mess around with each other and one of them is now living a lie of marriage. However my favourite performer in The Lighthouse was Susannah Harker who gets to show us a more vulnerable side of Sapphire haunted by these events.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its always calm in the eye of the storm.’
Death, Steel. All around us. Everywhere!’
‘Ships that have past in the night…’ – that is a very chilling line when you think that people have sought refuge in the lighthouse and were welcomed and murdered.
‘You’re vermin, a cancer rotting in the heart of society and there is only way to deal with cancer…you have to cut it out!’
‘Why is it that men bleed so much more than women? Look at it, its coming out of you like a river…’

Great Ideas: Nigel Fairs has brought together a number of chillingly realistic dramatic situations that I could imagine genuinely leading to murder if the situation was pushed enough. Jealous lovers with secrets and an old man who cannot confront his sexuality and lures a young boy to a remote location to take his frustrations out on him. A man with unfinished business with his sick father. Time has been fragmented, splintered – there is no order to it, its like leaves in a storm with little bits of time hurtling out of control. They found a body out on the rocks, a boy murdered in the 1940s by the lighthouse keeper. Family secrets and lies. Bodies are discovered under the floorboards and behind the walls – they’re everywhere. Most of them had their throats cut but some of them were shot. Nicholas and Adrian used to fool around with each other when they were younger and Nicholas used to lock him in the coal cellar and pretend to be his psychotic father until Adrian begged him to let him out. Sapphire and Steel are in the same room but in different times. Once the Old Man’s father held him down and sliced his back open like a fish. Nicholas’ father used to attack him but he will go on to do far worse, murdering his wife and hiding her bones up in the lighthouse. There are three triggers; a child’s painting, Nicholas’ wife’s blood and his fathers knife. Nicholas senior murders himself as a child and stops this whole sequence of events from ever taking place.

Audio Landscape: Laughter in the lighthouse, squeaky doors, a strong wind, thunder booming and rain lashing, crying in the darkness, a radio playing, scribbling pencils, seagulls screaming, pouring liquor, lighting up a cigarette, ticking clock, whispering voices, lightning crackling between ex lovers, grandfather clock, gunshot.

Musical Cues: Haunting vocals in the first had me creeped out before the story had even begun. The music when Micheal is stabbed means you can feel every blow. The conclusion features a foot tappingly good musical score as Sapphire and Steel work desperately in three time periods to try and stop time breaking through.

Isn’t it Odd: Once again we learn very little about what time is or what it wants and the wrap up is a little blink and you’ll miss it.

Standout Scene: If you thought this audio series was boundary pushing before wait until you hear the scene that sees the Old Man turn on his model and admit that he has killed so many young boys because they all tried to force themselves on him with their deviant ways. I’ve heard this story a few times and it is still a dangerously uncomfortable scene. Fortunately I liked watching/reading/listening to things that make me feel uncomfortable and this is one of the most striking examples I can remember. The actual murder is truly horrific. The scene where Nicholas senior confronts his younger self and shows him what he will become if he kills his wife and begins a lifetime of abuse and murder is startling, the best of this kind of conversation between the same person at different times that I have heard.

Notes: One thing I realised during this story was the main difference between Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel. Doctor Who takes every day things such as shadows, mannequins and maggots and makes them scary. Sapphire and Steel uses real horrors, feelings of jealousy, arousal and hatred and twists them into frightening situations that will chill your heart because they are just a few steps removed from situations anybody could find themselves in.

Result: I remember when I first listened to The Lighthouse it creeped me out beyond belief and took me ages to play it again. It’s a highly atmospheric production which conjures up the terrifying feeling of being trapped in a storm lashed lighthouse with some pretty potent emotions brewing inside. The shorter running time means that this story cuts to the chase and doesn’t waste a second, freaking your out from the first scene. Nigel Fairs’ dialogue has a ring of realism to it throughout and the characters feel painfully authentic. This is the story of one man who denies himself and makes terrible mistakes but the ending offers a second chance and a sense of redemption in death. The Lighthouse is a superb drama and well worth seeking out if you want you want to enjoy a slice of unnerving realism: 9/10

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