Following a previously successful run in Nottingham, Jane Upton’s All The Little Lights returns to the stage at the Arcola Theatre in London. Directed by Laura Ford, this nippy three-hander achieves a great deal in a short space of time, leaving the audience no time to draw breath, and pulls you in to a world that shouldn’t exist.
On some waste ground beside a railway track, Joanne has organised a 15th birthday party for ‘best-friend’ Lisa. Bunting is strung through the trees, alongside plastic carrier bags and debris which have settled there in the wind. The tent that Joanne expects them to spend the night in sits atop the rubbish discarded by others, and in the distance the city traffic can be heard.
There’s only one other guest at the party, 12 year-old Amy, she’s meeting Lisa for the first time but already shares so much in common with her. The theme of All The Little Lights is child exploitation, it becomes clear that ‘TJ’ from the chippy holds a more important role than someone serving fish and chips should. It is at no time graphic, the revelations slowly unfold in veiled comments, and the audience are left to piece together the horrifying picture in their minds.
Joanne is the most damaged of the trio, it has affected her personality for now she is a bully, manipulative and controlling, and she plays the other characters off against each other, trying to bait them in to doing things they really don’t want to do. Tessie Orange-Turner is captivating in the role, both terrifying and unpredictable with just the right amount of vulnerability.
Joanne’s erratic tendencies has Lisa scared, and Sarah Hoare captures this beautifully with barely perceivable affectations, and just the slightest waver in her voice. Esther-Grace Button is truly magical as the younger, eager to please, Amy, and her performance adds some much-welcomed humour in to the dark piece.
The writing is subtle and brilliant, the trio of girls talk about movies and play games, making up stories about who lives behind all the little lights in the rows of houses in the distance, all while this more sinister picture builds up, almost taking you by surprise, even though it was there all along.
All the Little Lights is sixty minutes of pure captivating theatre, expertly brought together to highlight the distressing issues of these young girls who find they have been discarded, like the empty crisp packets and drinks cans surrounding their tent.
Photos: Robert Day