Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Little Light

Alice Birch
Orange Tree Theatre

Paul Rattray, Paul Hickey, Lorna Brown, Yolanda Kettle Credit: Richard Davenport
Lorna Brown Credit: Richard Davenport
Paul Rattray Credit: Richard Davenport

The Orange Tree production of Alice Birch’s new play is not short of intensity, suspense and thrilling drama.

Little Light is a family drama that involves two sisters, Alison (Lorna Brown) and the heavily pregnant Clarissa (Yolanda Kettle) and their respective partners, Alison’s husband, Teddy (Paul Rattray) and Clarissa’s boyfriend, Simon (Paul Hickey).

In the first fifteen minutes, the audience is left wondering what it is that the characters are talking about, the ‘it’, the ‘this’, the event that is about to happen, once Simon, father of Clarissa’s baby, joins in and thereafter the production starts to build tension. It is a spiral of actions and words that takes the characters into an unstoppable turmoil of words, of confrontations till all is clarified yet not totally at rest.

It is Simon’s presence that disrupts the fragile balance between the two sisters and Terry, Alison’s slightly unhinged husband, who has made space for more light to shine into Alison’s and his house on the sea by knocking down a wall or two and the inside staircase.

Some long monologues and lengthy interactions that leave the audience a bit startled and in search for answers gain dramatic poignancy as each character is given the opportunity to tell their own tale, to confess their own demons. The game, the yearly encounter of the two sisters, surprises the audience and Simon, who does not understand the oddness of following strict, unrevealed order and logic. Real food and plenty of wine take centre stage as their characters, occasionally unwillingly, carry on with what is supposed to be a rigidly pre-scripted ritual.

There are some excellent performances from Paul Hickey as Simon who owns the stage with great presence and deliverance as he opens up to the other characters and the audience about himself. He is not merely the middle-aged, married, respectable doctor who is having a child by another woman but a complex figure who is challenged by the naked truth of madness and pain, protracted by the two sisters’ sinister yearly enactment.

Paul Rattray as Terry grows in his role of a suppressed home-maker sort of husband. The grand final of the production is all down to him, his unpretentious yet dazzlingly powerful confession that moves the audience by the trueness of a much felt delivery.

The success of this production is indeed made by the cast and David Mercatali’s bravura in lifting a script that is yes clever, yes poetic but in places touches predictably on the pathetic. Without the build-up of intensity, the sheer outburst of pure anger, of hate and madness that feeds on despair, I fear I might not have felt so impressed, as we discover at the end that it is a story of loss and death, the cruelty of life and death that accidently causes divisions and break-ups and creates casualties alongside.

All ingredients are there to create sublime tragedy. Though, by making all characters fully four-dimensional the focus of the play, the relation between sisters is decentred, if not pushed into the background. The play is about as much as the contingent effect of familial chaos as it is about the source of pain itself.

We cannot praise enough the cast for enduring all the grief and disarray and translating it into a wonderful production that can move in the way only theatre can.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli