Making a very welcome return to Nottingham Playhouse Neville Studio (7 – 11 February) is playwright Jane Upton’s sixty minute exposé of lost innocence and child abuse – All The Little Lights. Jane Upton was given the George Devine Award in May 2016 for Most Promising Playwright.
This piece of ‘ truly extraordinary and moving theatre’ (Nottingham Post) has been reworked since its launch in October 2015 and this electric play does the seemingly impossible: it outshines its former superb self in many regards. The characters have a deeper self awareness and the action is utterly engrossing, fresh and theatrically exciting. It remains a hard hitting piece of theatre about sexual abuse victims and perpetrators.
All The Little Lights, produced by Fifth Word is certainly a hot ticket and very much worth a second viewing. In this realistically breath-taking play we discover three vulnerable female teenagers dicing with death by a live train track. They laugh at their own risk-taking whilst balancing precariously on the fizzing track as the next train hurtles frighteningly toward them. Their combined voices are human electricity sounding out – laughter mixing with screams of narrow escape. As they tumble down together a mad kind of fluctuating joy like ‘sparks shaking out of yer’ thrills and chills. All these ‘little lights of life’ shine brighter than the sun for a fraction of a second. Then grim normality takes over – masked as a teenage birthday celebration going tragically wrong.
The set design for All The Little Lights marries a blend of ultra-real with theatrical licence. The action takes place amongst the casual detritus of the girls’ temporary encampment. In this play set designer Max Dorey creates a wealth of claustrophobic atmosphere in the Neville Studio. The lighting by designer Alex Stafford aids the unfolding story as does the acute sound design by Max Pappenheim.
This partially wooded place is a den for the young teens’ burgeoning imaginations to play in. However, creepily insinuated by text and inference, it proves to be a den of inequity of the worst kind. Sexual predators lurk invisibly in the dark corners of their society ready to abuse.
In All The Little Lights there appears to prevail a bravura of girlish camaraderie – a companionship of shared recklessness. Bragging and swearing get mixed in with innocent girlish chit chat and sexual ignorance. In the dark alley of their mutual existence lurk the actual horrible experiences of child sex abuse orchestrated by TJ who runs the local chip shop. These unseen, but alluded to, terrible acts and revelations haunt the superb one act play about the need to be wanted and survival.
Twelve year old Amy (Esther-Grace Button) aches for companionship in the rough company of dangerous but, ultimately protective, Joanne (Tessie Orange-Turner). Amy initially delights in being part of the small gang of three. Their friend Lisa (Sarah Hoare) is a deeply hurting soul who views the world through tired and world wary young eyes. Hoare’s body language and nature of pushing the world frantically away is ‘underplayed abject terror’ personified. In her superb performance you feel the harrowing hurt within the timid personality. Through Upton’s script the interpretation of Lisa’s reality is an awkward mix of sexual confusion and subdued anger. Orange-Turner as hard headed Joanne is initially the least sympathetic of the three but as her complex character evolves we realise another side to her. All three actresses put in terrifically multi-faceted, realistic and often darkly funny performances.
All The Little Lights is a creative response to high profile cases of child exploitation. Fifth Word and Nottingham Playhouse originally commissioned playwright Jane Upton to write this play to tell a starkly truthful and often unheard story. Laura Ford and Angharad Jones direct and much solid research has been done in collaboration with the charity Safe and Sound. All The Little Lights will tour until May 2017 at major UK theatre venues.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
Review originally written for The Nottingham Post.
Runs Tues 7 Feb – Sat 11 Feb (then UK tour)