The Little Theatre
Until 15 Mar 2020

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Theatre, at its very best, has the capacity to crawl inside your bones, your soul, your heart, and stir something deep inside. A play has the ability to be the ultimate tool for empathy, allowing you to understand a perspective and experience very different from your own. With nuanced writing and complex performances, the intimacy and immediacy of the form allows a powerful emotional connection with the audience.

“Cassie and the Lights”, the latest production from the UK’s Patch of Blue, is play that harnesses this power to tell the story of three sisters—sixteen year old Cassie, ten year old Tin, and seven year old Kit—whose notion of family is thrown into disarray when their mother disappears. Using music, projection, audio recordings, audience interaction and meta-commentary, “Cassie and the Lights” is a remarkable exploration of the resilience and fragility of childhood.

The three performers, Alex Brain, Michaela Murphy, and Emily McGlynn, greet the audience as they enter, chatting and directing them to their seats. The atmosphere is informal and intimate, warm and inviting. The stage is scattered with suitcases. What follows over the next hour are a series of vignettes that depict the experience of these three girls after they’re taken into a foster home. Other characters are portrayed merely as unseen voices—the uncontrollable external forces in their lives—and music and projection is also used to great effect throughout.

The heart of the performance, though, is the interaction between the three girls. Their dialogue is natural, their performances authentic, and we go with them from the joys of eating ice-cream and preparing for a Christmas disco, to the pain and confusion of their abandonment. All three actors are superb, playing their roles with great sensitivity for the complex inner worlds of young people, and their kinship is strikingly believable. The standout is Alex Brain as Cassie, the eldest of the three who has taken on the burden of responsibility for her small and broken family, even before their mother’s disappearance. Brain is utterly captivating; all of Cassie’s turmoil is portrayed with delicacy, heart and honesty. It’s a privilege to watch her at work.

“Cassie and the Lights” is based on real-life events and interviews with children in care, and it’s clear that the utmost respect has been taken to communicate these experiences without feeling exploitative. Director, writer and designer Alex Howarth has created something truly extraordinary with this piece of theatre. It is sad and it is fun. It is delicately simple, and wrenchingly complex. It is unmissable.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)