Tag Archives: Bethany Gupwell

Lay Down Your Burdens





“It was a genuinely mixed experience, and sometimes that is refreshing in its own way.”

Billed as a piece of ‘radically tender dance theatre’ Lay Down Your Burdens is a brave, if peculiar, piece of immersive theatre.

We are welcomed to a local pub, by friendly landlady (Sara Turner) where the three locals and the bartender consistently mask their respective pain by drinking, and dancing, and generally being merry. When they are joined by an American stranger (Donald Hutera) who is ripped open and vulnerable with grief, they begin to teach him a new way of looking at life. Interspersed with audience participation, immersive games and calls and responses, as well as stunning contemporary dance, this story unfolds as each character delves into their personal unhappiness.

Choreographer/director Rhiannon Faith devised this piece with the cast, and it has that muddled feeling that often plagues devised theatre. There is a lot going on, far too many characters, and the script is at times almost painful. However, where this piece soars is when it stays away from the strange plot that ties it down, and focusses on the abstract, on the audience participation and the dance.

Something that works astonishingly well is the sound design by Anna Clock. Anna is on stage paying cello, along with violinist India Shan Merrett, giving an ethereal live beauty to the performance. But Anna is also recording the audience responses, and at the end they layer them into a melting soundscape, adding meaning to the words and chants we’d shared. My favourite moment in the piece was where audience members were invited to share into a microphone the things they loved. It was moving and subtle and completely beautiful. To hear these back, layered with people’s responses to other prompts throughout the piece, was a stroke of immersive genius.

The dance was also extraordinary. Dominic Coffey, Shelley Eva Haden, Sam Ford and Finetta Sidgwick move across the stage in frantic, weird contortions. They represent pain, grief and struggle through their bodies but it is also lovely to see them dancing a jig in an early scene. All of them are very strong dancers, with captivating stage presences, but a standout is Haden who tells the story of a woman losing touch with her inner child through a beautiful series of gyrating agitated solos.

The set, by designer Noemi Daboczi is simple, a bar at the centre and booths behind, but it can be whatever the performers make it, and it feels eerily like a local pub.

This piece is hard to review, because some parts I hated, and some I loved. Every time I would get on board with the production, it would completely change into something else, often something that was baffling or tonally startling. I would see another production by Rhiannon Faith Company, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this one. I found the message confusing, and even at times problematic – there was a sense of toxic positivity and no questions around alcohol as a ticket to happiness. However, the idea of finding the joy in small things is beautiful, and important. It was a genuinely mixed experience, and sometimes that is refreshing in its own way.


Reviewed on 22nd November 2023

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Foteini Christofilopoulou



More shows reviewed by Auriol:

Lovetrain2020 | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | November 2023
Mates In Chelsea | ★★★ | Royal Court | November 2023
Flip! | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | November 2023
Sputnik Sweetheart | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | October 2023
Boy Parts | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | October 2023
Casting The Runes | ★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | October 2023
Elephant | ★★★★★ | Bush Theatre | October 2023
Hamnet | ★★★ | Garrick Theatre | October 2023
Gentlemen | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | October 2023
This Is Not A Circus: 360 | ★★★★★ | Jacksons Lane | October 2023

Lay Down Your Burdens

Lay Down Your Burdens

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page



Wickies: The Vanishing Men Of Eilean Mor


Park Theatre




“The strength of this production sits with its creatives and the actors, who wrestled as best they could with a script that needs some serious trimming”


“A lighthouse is a symbol of man’s good intentions” the experienced James Ducat (Ewan Stewart) tells wet-behind-the-ears keeper Thomas Marshall (Jamie Quinn) as he comes ashore to help man remote Eilean Mor. The lighthouse sets the scene for this eerie tale of three keepers, or wickies, who disappear from Flannan Isles in apparently mysterious circumstances.

In addition to the central narrative, the play is packed with stories about lighthouse keepers going mad with isolation and creepy bodies flailing in the wind. It’s a fertile setting for playwright (Paul Morrissey) to wring a story from.

But it’s not all windswept despair. The script is woven together with joyous and melancholy sea shanties sung acapella by the actors, which serves to highlight the men’s isolation marooned in this distant place. The direction (Shilpa T-Hyland) makes use of the whole stage – at times the actors emerge from the audience, while a rickety ladder is shimmied up and down to give an impression of height (the lighthouse is very tall, we’re reminded frequently).

The set design ( Zoe Hurwitz), lighting design (Bethany Gupwell) and sound design (Nik Paget-Tomlinson) all deserve special mention. They work together to create a true sense of isolation and claustrophobia. In particular lighting designer Bethany Gupwell’s role in a play where the keeper’s one goal is to ‘keep the light on’ at all times, is a central one. Lighting decisions are clever – at one point the theatre is cast into complete darkness while Thomas Marshall (Jamie Quinn) carries a lantern across the stage that casts a shaky beam of light to make the audience feel like ships tossed around on a stormy sea.

The strength of this production sits with its creatives and the actors, who wrestled as best they could with a script that needs some serious trimming.

The audience is told the same information again and again, just by different people. Pace is slow. It could do well with being cut to 90 minutes and losing the interval.

There’s an entire scene where Donald MacArthur and Thomas Marshall sit around a table discussing why the senior keeper left his family to work on the lighthouse, but we’d just been told why moments before. Thomas Marshall – “you ask a lot of questions, don’t you?” – was indeed, always asking questions, and often the same ones, repeatedly. Why had the men chosen to work in such remote places? Why did they leave their family?

The play’s intentions are good. There’s humour in spades – Graeme Dalling delivers some excellent one-liners, and he performs his role as a man metaphorically and literally lost at sea with energy and melancholy passion. But there’s a sense that this play could do with more showing and less telling. I wanted to see the actions they described – rather than hearing the inspector’s descriptions of what he thought had happened to the men, I wanted to see the actors act.

Several questions remain unanswered. The predominant one is why this play now? Why this play here, at the Park Theatre? But perhaps that doesn’t matter to all but the most diehard theatre fan. Afterall, it can feel at times that theatre has become something to clench your stomach ahead of and check your mental constitution after, and Wickies, other than a few ghost stories, doesn’t require that.

Inspection of the website post-show reveals that the play is partnering with StrongMen, a charity that helps men through bereavement. And perhaps that’s the only loose theme that comes through – a symbol of man’s enduring isolation in a world that’s not built for them. At its heart, this is just a good yarn, a ghost story threaded with reality. If you want to see something this season that’s not a show about Christmas, then this is a fine place to while away an evening.



Reviewed on 5th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Pamela Raith




Previously reviewed at this venue:


Flushed | ★★★★ | October 2021
Abigail’s Party | ★★★★ | November 2021
Little Women | ★★★★ | November 2021
Cratchit | ★★★ | December 2021
Julie Madly Deeply | ★★★★ | December 2021
Another America | ★★★ | April 2022
The End of the Night | ★★ | May 2022
Monster | ★★★★★ | August 2022
A Single Man | ★★★★ | October 2022
Pickle | ★★★ | November 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews