Cassie and the Lights

Alex Howarth
Patch of Blue Theatre
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Alex Brain and Helen Chong as Cassie and Tin
Emily McGlynn, Alex Brain and Helen Chong as Kit, Cassie and Tin

Writer, director and designer Alex Howarth’s clever and illuminating Edinburgh Fringe 2022, London and Off Broadway hit shines light into the darkest corners of the care system through a homespun tale of three sisters.

Tin and Kit glow bright despite their neglectful mother and a litany of abusive episodes and partners. Cassie is more than their older sister: she is—and, it seems, always has been—their mother substitute and their glue.

But this time, mum hasn’t nipped to the pub or gone AWOL for a couple of hours, she has absconded completely. Joined the queue for slushies during an evening at the bowling alley—not to play but to watch while keeping warm as the electricity is off again—and not seen again.

The indomitable Cassie (a superb performance from Alex Brain) does her damnedest to hold the family together, keep the kids clean, fed and with homework done but soon tongues wag and the social workers step in. Too young to apply for a court order for custody, Cassie’s desperate attempts to persuade the powers that be that she is good enough to keep the girls together are played out in a series of vignettes under a full washing line and among a plethora of suitcases, which act as projection drops or hold neon lighting or become a puppet theatre.

Helen Chong beautifully plays Tin, science nerd, astronomer-in-the-making and just discovering boys while Emily McGlynn is believable as the baby of the family, frog-hatted Kit, with Pritt Stick in her hair and ice-cream on her mind.

Bethany Antonia (House of the Dragon), John Thomson (Men Behaving Badly), Louisa Harland (Derry Girls), Wendi Peters (Coronation Street) and Oli Higginson (The Last Five Years, Bridgerton) (and audience members) provide the voices of everyone else—well-meaning social workers and lawyers; judge and foster parents whose Waitrose Essential lifestyle, couscous and nice smelling house is both nurturing for the youngsters and threatening to the family unit.

Imogen Mason’s live music and Rachel Sampley’s atmospheric lighting design adds depth.

There clearly are no perfect answers and Howarth gently challenges the audience to consider just what is family and what is important.

Very watchable, funny, interesting, gut-wrenching and tear-jerking.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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