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Review: Cassie and the Lights (Southwark Playhouse Borough)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Southwark Playhouse seems to be the place to be at the moment when it comes to exciting new shows. While its sister venue currently has an encore run of Police Cops and recent show The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is getting a West End transfer imminently, the littlest of the three spaces is currently playing host to a new show that has already generated a buzz in New York and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Will Cassie and the Lights shine just as brightly for London audiences?

 

Created and directed by Alex Howarth, Cassie and the Lights is based on real-life events and interviews with children in care. It tells the story of teenager Cassie who has to look after her two younger sisters when her mother disappears. With her protective instinct kicking in, Cassie fights to care for them on her own, but with foster parents wanting to adopt them, will she keep her family or find a new family forged without her in the picture?

 


The intimate space of The Little at Southwark Playhouse, Borough is the perfect setting for Cassie and the Lights. This is a story that requires a real connection to the story with the ability to see every facial expression and even interact with the small cast integral to the impact of this. From the informal way the cast enters the space before the show starts, saying hello and asking the audience questions to ways they get them involved (with their consent) and break the fourth wall to mention what is coming next in the play, the result is a unique and distinctive portrayal that is refreshingly accessible.

 

Alex Howarth takes great care in how this story is told with a naturalistic approach that feels more conversational and adds to the intimacy of the piece. Luring you in slowly without knowing all the facts, you become very involved so that when all the pieces fit together, the emotional response is slightly unexpected but very deserved. Charming at parts, cute and sweet in others, and heart-wrenching in others, the one consistency in the writing is the high quality which never waivers from start to finish. Whether it’s some funny payoffs or some truly emotive and hard-to-watch sequences, Howarth’s writing astounds at every opportunity. With the show lasting no more than 70 minutes, it is incredibly impressive how such a deep and textured story is allowed to unfold and breathe in a relatively short amount of time.



Having both written and directed Cassie and the Lights, Howarth clearly has the right idea on how to tell this story in the most impactful way and that is clear to see with the playful and poignant direction that punctuates the lines, scenes, and overall story. Ruth Badla’s scenic design has a fun use of props which add a childlike wonder perfect for the story, with a great use of video and integral use of lighting both by Rachel Sampley (with lighting at Southwark Playhouse by Will Monks) elevating the story even further.

 

A play with music, Imogen Mason and Ellie Mason create some wonderful compositions that add to the effects of the story, particularly in the tender musical moments that feature sporadically, performed by Charlotte Schnurr at this performance. While not a musical in the slightest, this is a great example of how plays can feature music effectively without overpowering the story or proving to be inconsistent in tone.



Alex Brain leads the three siblings as Cassie with a commanding presence, rich in their portrayal, full of effortless charm, emotion, and a whole lot of heart. Their embodiment of Cassie feels authentic and urgent as we feel every bit of Cassie’s plight to look after her sisters and can almost feel the weight on her shoulders. Alex is a true marvel to watch, combining all of this in a multilayered and heavily nuanced performance that holds the key to the message behind the story.

 

Helen Chong gives a sweet performance as Tin, getting her own musical moment and proving what a talented and versatile performer she is. Emily McGlynn completes the trio of siblings as Kit with a loveable childlike innocence that reveals itself to the trauma of the unfolding situation in a performance rich with texture. The key success of all three performers is their ensemble work as they all gel phenomenally well, lifting each other and creating a bond that feels real, so you almost forget you are watching theatre and not reality – a testament to both the writing and performances.



Cassie and the Lights is a shining example of how theatre can convey a powerful message while also entertaining. Profoundly moving and a show that deeply affected me, regardless of how much you can relate to the situation at hand, there is something deeply human about this story and this is beautifully represented in its shifting tone from innocence to heartache, A truly incredible feat of writing, flawlessly matched by its trio of wonderful performers, this is a vital piece of theatre which has an unrivaled ability to make you feel and your heart hurt with empathy for the characters. It’s clear to see why audiences and critics have fallen in love with this show in the past – you can add me to the list of this show’s fans. One thing is for sure – the future is bright for this illuminating masterpiece.

 

Cassie and the Lights plays at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 20th April. Tickets from www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

 

Photos by Claire Bilyard

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