All the Little Lights, Arcola Theatre

by guest critic Gregory Forrest

Hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure, Jane Upton’s work is a darkly realistic shock to the system. Nominated for Best Play at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards 2017 and joint winner of the 2016 George Devine Award, All the Little Lights is an astonishing achievement.

Three girls meet at the side of a train track to chat shit about Frozen, Primark, and the local chippy. It is Lisa’s birthday. Yet Lisa cannot escape her past, Joanne her present, and Amy might not be able to avoid her future. Max Dorey’s design perfectly portrays a middle of nowhere wasteland: plastic bags and empty wrappers. This is what can happen to the girls who fall through the cracks.

The dynamics of the trio are deft and seismic. As Amy, Esther-Grace Button nails the comedy of the evening: bubbly, naive, and as irritating as a candle that refuses to go out. Sarah Hoare faces the challenge of portraying the quieter conflicts of fifteen-year-old Lisa, and excels with a subtle and moving performance.

Yet pulling the strings throughout the evening is Joanne. She bought the party poppers, the Victoria sponge, and even brewed a cocktail of vodka and rainwater. Tessie Orange-Turner spends the night bouncing between jokes and fury, always underscored by pain. It is an excellent performance of a complex character. Her silent eyes in the closing image speak volumes.

Over the course of the evening, information is cleverly drip-fed to the audience and gives shape to the story. It is skillful writing. In under an hour we see betrayal, suffering, and friendship. Director Laura Ford deserves true credit for unifying the creative gestures of this play into a forceful punch of a production. The best play I have seen this year; it is urgent, compelling, and demands an audience.

All the Little Lights runs through 4 November.

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