Writer: Jane Upton
Director: Laura Ford
Reviewer: Karen Bussell
In 2014 Fifth Word commissioned Jane Upton to respond to the wave of high profile child exploitation court cases with a light and shade play exploring the human stories behind the headlines.
Working with Derby-based charity Safe and Sound, Upton created All The Little Lights, an emotional rollercoaster ride through a belated 15th birthday party where the unspoken speaks loudest and childhood innocence sits uncomfortably with bullying and sex.
Lisa is a reluctant guest at her own party, blackmailed into attending and almost paralysed with fear that she will be drawn back into a terrifying past. Sarah Hoare’s Lisa is all about the body language – intense and telling, a survivor against the odds but carrying the scars as she admits to a mortifying moment of inappropriate, but learned, behaviour with a guitar-playing foster father. She may have found her escape and be looking to reinvent herself with a quiff and GCSE aspirations but is only really alive when precariously balancing on the rails, playing chicken with an approaching train.
Upton has created a complex character in Joanne (a compelling Tessie Orange-Turner). Bully and victim, abuser and abused, she has no escape save for Lisa’s fabricated stories of lives in the distant lit-up houses, children’s films and a one-way ticket to Skegness. Not an easy like, and with swingeing moods, Joanne has tracked down her missing best friend – or meal ticket – with cold determination, lured her to an isolated hilltop, and insists she eat cold spaghetti hoops and drink vodka-laced Lucozade.
As the 60-minute piece unfolds, so does Joanne. Although we can never be quite sure of her motives, it is clear she is stuck in a sinister dog-eat-dog cycle and will never see the sea. She is proud and pitiful, desperate and predatory.
Joanne’s latest sidekick is endearing 12-year-old Amy (Esther-Grace Button) whose infectious giggling at the unblow-outable candles and mimicry of ET breaks the almost unbearable building tension. Clearly being groomed and gifted to the murky TJ down the chippy, her innocence and easy access to her grandmother’s baby daughter is chilling.
Max Dorey has created an apposite set – a child’s pop-up tent juxtapositions with beer crates and rubbish of the questionable kind while bare branches and overhead cables emphasise the deserted, bleak but urban wasteland. Seedy plastic bunting and an expensive foil balloon, party hats and railway lines underline the conflicts of life under the radar.
Co-founder and Joint Artistic Director of Fifth Word, Laura Ford directs sensitively to deliver the sickening truth through humour and pathos, never allowing a maudlin moment to break the unpacking of a horrific but real tale of forgotten children ripe for exploitation.
Plymouth until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed