ISLES OF SHOALS:  the Eternal Sound of the Sea


At Pontine Theater, Plains School

ISLES OF SHOALS:  the Eternal Sound of the Sea

Live Performances:  18 - 27 March

Online Viewing:  Sunday 3 April @2pm



PORTSMOUTH NH:  Pontine Theatre’s original production, ISLES OF SHOALS:  the Eternal Sound of the Sea, will play at the historic 1845 Plains Schoolhouse theatre, located at 1 Plains Ave, Portsmouth NH,  18 - 27 March.  Performances are Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at  2pm.  Tickets may be purchased at —  All audience members must provide vaccination status and  wear a mask during the show.  The production will be available for online viewing beginning  with a Zoom premiere on Sunday 3 April @2pm, the video will then be available on-demand on the Vimeo platform. Tickets for online viewing are also available at — Pontine’s 2021-22 season is supported by grants from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The production is underwritten by Cambridge Trust Charitable Foundation.  For information contact Pontine:  or 603-436-6660.   


ISLES OF SHOALS: the Eternal Sound of the Sea is created and performed by Pontine Theatre’s’s Co-artistic Directors, Marguerite Mathews and Greg Gathers.  The script is drawn from the writings of two prominent New England authors, Celia Thaxter and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, in various works, explore the rich history and folklore of the Shoals, from the early settlement through the Victorian resort era.  Through Storytelling, Tabletop Toy Theatre, projected video and shadow play, Pontine’s co-directors bring the legend and lore of the Shoals to life onstage.  


Celia Thaxter was born in Portsmouth in 1835 and spent much of her childhood on White Island at the Isles of Shoals where her father was the lighthouse keeper and Appledore where her family ran a resort hotel.  At age 16 she married her former tutor, Levi Thaxter, who introduced Celia to the literary world of Boston.  Her first published poem, Land-locked, appeared in The Atlantic in 1860.   Celia went on to became one of America’s favorite authors. Thomas Aldrich,  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthrone, Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier were among her circle of friends and they, along with actors, artists and musicians came to visit her and vacation at the hotel her family operated at the Shoals.  


In  1852  Nathaniel Hawthorne visited the Isles of Shoals.  During his two-week visit, he stayed at the Appledore House, where he was hosted by Thomas Laighton and other members of the Laighton family, including Thomas’s daughter, Celia.  At the time of Hawthorne’s visit Celia was newly wed and had just set up housekeeping in a little cottage.  In Hawthorne’s journal, he describes his visits to Celia and Levi’s cottage, located near her family’s hotel. 



Hawthorne’s observations are extracted from his published journal  An American Notebook.  In it he describes the Shoals through the eyes of a typical summer visitor, marveling at the rugged beauty of the scenery, extolling the amenities of the hotel, and wondering at the rustic lifestyle of the native fishermen.  


Pontine Theatre’s production integrates excerpts from  An American Notebook  with stories, reminiscences, and local lore written by the islands’ most famous resident, Celia Thaxter.  From her autobiographical,  Among the Isles of Shoals come a history of the early days on the islands, the wreck of the Sagunto on Haleys’ Island (now Smuttynose), and the tale of the ghostly maiden said to guard Blackbeard’s pirate treasure. 


Also featured in the play is the tale of the famous murders on Smuttynose island as told in Thaxter’s article “A Memorable Murder,” which was published in  The Atlantic.  Pontine brings this true story to life with a tabletop theatre populated with beautifully crafted figures who act out the tragic events which occured that fateful night on Smuttynose. 


ISLES OF SHOALS: the Eternal Sound of the Sea will be enjoyed by those who have already cultivated a love of the Shoals as well as those who have yet to be introduced to their unique magic.  


Pontine Theatre’s co-director, Greg Gathers designed and crafted the set, shadow puppets and toy theatre figures which are employed to bring history, legend and lore to life onstage.   


Pontine Theatre, a two-person ensemble, is well known for a large body of innovative original productions that celebrate the history and culture of New England.  These include a staging of Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s 1869 novel,  The Story of a Bad Boy; an original adaptation of Brewster’s Rambles About Portsmouth; an original adaptation of Sarah Orne Jewett’s 1896 novel, The Country of the Pointed FirsCornish Castles, based on the life and work of New Hampshire painter, Maxfield Parrish; Journey To Heaven, based on the lives and beliefs of the Shakers; and Dearly Earned, about 19th century New England textile mill workers.  Pontine Theatre has performed in hundreds of sites throughout the region including Bates College, Dartmouth College, M.I.T., Currier Museum, DeCordova Museum, Farnsworth Museum,  Fruitlands Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Enfield Shaker Village.  


Pontine Artistic Co-Directors perform their production, The Isles of Shoals: the Eternal Sound of the Sea, 18-27 March, at Portsmouth, NH’s 1845 Plains Schoolhouse Theatre.  Photo:  Michale Sterlings