It all feels like a childish game, a competition as to who can impress the other the most. Joanne (Tessie Orange-Turner) is in charge, the alpha female that demands attention and uses playground bullying tactics to ensure she remains at the top of the tree. Youngest of the pack Amy (Esther-Grace Button) is in many ways the most intelligent, lacking in social skills but full of factual knowledge. Every time she throws out a surprisingly clever retort, she is violently beaten down so that Joanne (Orange-Turner) can maintain control.
All The Little Lights is intrinsically sinister, more so when considering the age of the characters involved. These girls are embroiled in a menacing world of prostitution and gang violence, a world that has taken its toll on the older in the bunch. Jane Upton’s script juxtaposes the situation against moments of childlike delight; a birthday party in the woods and a Frozen onesie remind us that these are kids, their innocence ripped away by a ring of adults that control them with rape and chips. Laura Ford ensures that the atmosphere looms over the scene like a caged beast, ready to strike at any moment. At times the contrast fades, but it never quite disappears entirely.
Max Dorey’s design is a detailed depiction of the opposing forces at work in All The Little Lights – childlike bunting mingles with brightly coloured crisp packets next to a train track. It’s a distressing scene of homelessness littered with 8-year-old’s party plates and birthday cakes. The magnitude of the trauma is exemplified by the fact that none of these three are in fact homeless, choosing instead to be together outside of their respective abodes. Well, choosing in the case of Amy and Joanne at least – Lisa (Sarah Hoare) is the kid who escaped the madness, only to be left looking over her shoulder for fear of being pulled back in.
The actors give distinct performances, a strong ensemble that presents multiple perspectives on the underworld in which all are caught up in. Orange-Turner is the stand-out here, a clever combination of tough leader and frightened child, desperate to have friends. Her physicality is one of a coiled spring, a series of micro-reactions that try and calm an inner rage threatening to explode outward at any opportunity. She prowls the scene like a swaggering lioness, fiercely protective of her charges but equally using the only thing she knows – violence – to keep them all in line. Playful cub Amy (Button) is equally desperate to impress, looking up to her elders and doing anything she can to ingratiate herself. The contrast between her and wary Lisa (Hoare) is a welcome contrast in Ford’s production – more can be done to pit these two against each other for Joanne’s approval.
All The Little Lights is a slow burner, the knowledge that something is intrinsically wrong without finding out what until near the end. Ford keeps the pot bubbling, bringing it close to boiling over without ever quite losing control of the pace or tension. This is a show of contrast, an effective realisation of a script that is most disturbing in the truth it tells.
Director: Laura Ford
Producer: Corinne Salisbury for Fifth Word
Writer: Jane Upton
Design: Max Dorey; Alexandra Stafford (lighting); Max Pappenheim (sound)
Cast: Esther-Grace Button; Sarah Hoare; Tessie Orange-Turner
Images courtesy of Robert Day
All The Little Lights plays the Arcola Theatre until 4 November 2017. For more information or to book tickets, visit the website.