Museum On Tour, 12 June 2019: Bringing a lighthouse to life
by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer
Our ‘On Tour’ programme is winding down and one of the highlights from these last few weeks has been a series of performances at Smeaton’s Tower.
‘Keeper of the Light’ was inspired by the lives of the intrepid lighthouse keepers who once worked out on the notorious Eddystone Reef.
Lying some 14 miles out to sea from Plymouth, and the location of Smeaton’s Tower from 1759 until the 1880s, the reef was once the cause of countless shipwrecks. Most of it is submerged, making it extremely treacherous. At one point seafarers would sail around the Channel Islands or the coast of France to avoid it.
Keepers worked in the lighthouse that currently stands on the reef until the early 1980s. When this lighthouse became fully automatic it brought more than 280 years of keepers of the Eddystone Light to an end. What would those men’s lives have been like? What sort of person would have chosen such a job? What type of skills would they have needed to cope with the harsh working and living environment?
Working with Director Mark Laville, Scriptwriter Simon Turley and our Engagement Officer Sara Norrish, students from Falmouth University’s Academy of Music and Theatre Arts set out to explore these and other questions.
Conversations around the project began almost a year ago. The end result was a series of brilliant short performances for visitors to Smeaton’s Tower in late May and early June.
Much of the work for the performances was done in Falmouth so a site visit to the lighthouse as part of the research and development process was essential. Mark discusses the importance of the visit in this video clip.
‘Keeper of the Light’ was also a really useful way for us to pilot and test performance as a medium for bringing history to life.
It’s part of an ongoing strand of work that Sara has led on over the last few years and which has also included the fantastic ‘Spice Box’ and ‘Ropewalks’ performances – both of which were directed by Mark and delivered with the Barbican Theatre. Here’s a little reminder of the ‘Ropewalks’ theatrical walking tours that took place in 2017.
Given how well received ‘Keeper of the Light’ has been, I’m sure it won’t be the last time we take this approach with interpretation – not just at sites like Smeaton’s Tower and the Elizabethan House but in the galleries at The Box too.
Like ‘Spice Box’ and ‘Ropewalks’ the project has showed us yet again how theatre and performance can interpret historical facts and spaces in new ways, and help create a completely different kind of visitor experience.
“Brilliant production by Falmouth University students at Smeaton’s Tower. The ‘Keeper of the Light’ keeping the past present.
“Fabulous performance of stories from the lighthouse……….a fabulous site specific event.”
“Theatre in the tower and songs on the stairs. The ‘Keeper of the Light’ shines at Smeaton’s Tower.”