As Australians, we take great pride in the story of our ANZACs. Sadly, as there are no longer any WWI veterans to march on our most sacred national day, it is more important than ever to keep their stories alive and accessible for younger generations, Lest We Forget.
The Lighthouse Girl is one such story, regaling the true to life tale of lighthouse keeper’s daughter Fay Howe.
Once a little-known local heroine, Fay was the inspiration for the Perth International Arts Festival’s successful 2015 production, The Incredible and Phenomenal Journey of the Giants to the Streets of Perth. In the Black Swan State Theatre Company’s current production, Fay is the pivotal character.
Fay lived on Breaksea Island off the coast of Albany; one of the last Australian landmarks young men and women would see before they sailed off to join the WWI allies on the frontline on 1 November 1914.
Fay’s isolated life with her father and old salt, Joe Taylor allows her plenty of time to perfect her skills in semaphore, Morse code and letter writing; all of which unwittingly form part of her now-celebrated story. Simpson had his donkey. Fay had her signalling skills.
On the other side of Australia, wannabe adventurers Jim and Charlie enlist as Light Horsemen. Soon the Victorian lads of Bonnie Doon find themselves on a packed warship docked in King George Sound, awaiting deployment to countries they’ve barely heard of. The pair embodies the Australian values of mateship and loyalty with a healthy dose of the larrikin, but as we bear witness to their journey, we see their worlds change against the background of the ugliness of war.
The Lighthouse Girl is based on books written by Albany author Diane Wolfer and adapted for the stage by gifted WA playwright Hellie Turner (Mad Fred, The Times of Texas Wall).
Beyond the well-woven script, a sublime cast brings it to life. Young Daisy Coyle is Fay Howe. She is the centrepiece of this production, her radiant smile working like photosynthesis on the audience.
The relationship between Fay and her father (Benj D’Addario) is played with all the awkwardness of a man coming to terms with his daughter’s metamorphosis into womanhood, and even in the moments of beautiful intimacy, a sense of emotional distance prevails.
Likewise, the performances of Will McNeill and Guiseppe Rotondella (both fresh out of WAAPA) as childhood pals draws you into their carefree world and along on their coming-of-age journey.
This play is thoughtfully directed and elegantly staged with the powerhouse combination of Joe Lui on lights, Lynn Ferguson on costumes and Brett Smith on sound. The set, designed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait, works on so many different levels, casting haunting shadows against the backdrop and offering multiple facets for a director to move the players around, keeping the performance visually appealing.
The Lighthouse Girl is a moving piece of theatre, with all the light and shade of sunrises and sunsets across oceans. It is endearingly funny in parts and tear-jerkingly heartbreaking in others. A tissue stashed up each sleeve is essential.
Some of the dialogue between Bob and Joe feels preemptive for the era, with sentiments about men going off to war feeling more like opinions toward those heading into WWII, not the First World War. But that aside, The Lighthouse Girl is a must-see.
A highly recommended theatrical experience that will draw you in and guarantee you’ll be recommending it to theatre-loving friends.
State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
Playing 28 April to 14 May 2017
Images: Lee Griffith Photography