“Look dead cosy don’t they, all the little lights”
After completing a UK tour in the spring of 2017, All the Little Lights has finally reached a London stage and settled into its new home at the Arcola Theatre. Exploring the lives of young women who slip through the cracks in society, this play asks you to sit and listen to the voices of the often voiceless. With support from child exploitation awareness charity Safe and Sound, Jane Upton’s play has created a window into a world that has been ignored for far too long.
Tessie Orange-Turner is captivating as Joanne, a deeply complex character forced into adulthood through no doing of her own. Her presence brings about a nervous tension on stage as she flickers between moments of sisterly love and explosive violence-yet your empathy for her never wavers. Her longing for some sort security reveals itself through her desperation to make Lisa stay for a makeshift birthday party she’s thrown; however, Orange-Turner creates an underlying feeling of unease throughout the hour. What are her real intentions? Why is Lisa really here?
Sarah Hoares carries a lot of the shows emotional weight as Lisa, and her performance is compelling as she harbours quiet internal conflicts. It is more than unsettling to see a fifteen-year-old having to hold her head high in such extreme and harrowing circumstances, yet Hoares demands the audience to see the vulnerability and pain Lisa is hiding. She radiates fear throughout the production, fear of Joanne, of the unseen men offstage, and of the strange normality of her foster home. The reality of what Lisa has been through is revealed in pieces throughout the play, yet the most disturbing parts of the production are what’s left unsaid. To display such a complex range of emotions on stage is truly incredible.
Esther-Grace Button’s performance as the youngest of the trio (Amy) is astounding. Her body-language and wide-eyed childlike stare make the events in the play seem even more shocking, she is seeing this situation through the eyes of a child. However, amid this darkness Button offers genuinely hilarious moments of comic relief, that are woven so naturally into the play. She also provides a noticeable contrast to Joanne and Lisa, her childishness and innocence infuriating Joanne. Maybe its because she is the ghost of the child she once was, or a reminder of the years she cannot get back.
Max Dorey set feels like a no-man’s land, is bleak in appearance and extremely intimate -you are no more than a pace away from the actors. This closeness magnifies the emotions that the actors are expressing on stage, yet also makes it difficult to introduce large set pieces. Both Sound designer Max Pappenheim and Lighting Designer Alexandra Stafford manage to replicate the deafening roar of the train, accompanied by its blinding headlights. It is a masterpiece in theatre design, a train isn’t present on stage yet the terror it ensures is completely overpowering.
There is a sense of desperation that overwhelms the production, and it feels as if time is running out for these girls. We see only sixty minutes of their lives, and it is as if they are balancing on a high-wire. At the very beginning of the show, Tessie Orange-Turner looked directly into my eyes, as I sat in the front row, and I turned away because I felt like an intruder in a world I didn’t understand, but I had to keep watching. This is a perfect example of why this production is so important-it forces us not to turn away. Upton’s All the Little Lights is not only a thought-provoking piece of theatre, it is transformative.
Reviewed by Olivia Mackrill