Review: CASSIE AND THE LIGHTS, Southwark Playhouse Borough

A tender, heartwrenching play that explores the meaning of family.

By: Apr. 06, 2024
Review: CASSIE AND THE LIGHTS, Southwark Playhouse Borough
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Review: CASSIE AND THE LIGHTS, Southwark Playhouse Borough There is a genre of theatre that should be called pure heartbreak so that Cassie and the Lights could fit in one. We might meet Cassie when she’s 16 and her sisters Kit and Tin and seven and six years, respectively, but their journey begins long before this point. When their mum abandons them at a bowling alley, the eldest thinks it’s just another blip and everything will be resolved soon. She takes her sisters back home and implores them not to mention their mother’s absence to anybody at school. She feeds and dressed them, so when they’re fostered by a genuinely lovely couple, Cassie decides she's the one who should have custory of Tin and Kit. Can a teenager become a parent to their siblings? 

Written and directed by Alex Howarth based on real conversations with kids in care, it’s a shot to the heart. Profoundly moving in its bittersweet playfulness and candid approach to the subject, the production is scrupulously crafted to come off as child’s play. It exquisitely translates the world as if it was seen through the eyes of children, engaging into a blunt direct address that gives an atypical accessibility to the show. Alex Brain (Cassie) guides Helen Chong (Tin) and Emily McGlynn (Kit) as they tell their story. In doing so, she opens up the pretence into the audience, making their crowd part of the stagecraft in a succession of sweet instances.

It’s a delicate type of storytelling that strips unconditional love and arbitrary pain down to its purest forms. Howarth writes a friendly and conversational script that contains an underlying sadness in all of Cassie’s exchanges. She is fiercely protective, with an astounding sense of responsibility, hellbent on preserving their mother’s reputation for Kit and Tin’s benefit. Her dedication to them is, ovbiously, to her own detriment. Brain shakes the ground with the intensity of her performance; she is a harrowing sight for anyone who has younger siblings.

Brain introduces an incredibly mature young woman who’s grown up to be hyper-vigilant and who’s now struggling to keep it together. She’s there for her sisters’ every need, but who’s there for hers? Her portrayal is remarkably sincere and lifelike. By her side, Chong and McGlynn are relentlessly amusing in their childlike state. Yes, having adults playing children is often a bit jarring, but they maintain a shockingly strong standard. Their worldview comes to life with outer space analogies and an emotional attachment to a headband that looks like a frog, delivering performances that are sneakily devastating under their coat of perfectly calibrated humour. 

Howarth sets his piece up with a multimedia angle, adding live music composed by Imogen and Ellie Mason and projections that take over the stage to generate physical responses from the company. Ruth Badila sets the scene in a sort of limbo, with clusters of pastel coloured suitcases all over - a beautiful way to imply the unstable nature of the girls’ situation. Fundamentally, the project that examines the very notion of family and one must be made of stone to leave the show unaffected.

Cassie and the Lights runs at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 20 April.

Photo credit: Claire Bilyard


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