MARY CONWAY sees an outstanding drama on the harsh realities of life for three vulnerable young girls
All the Little Lights, Arcola Theatre, London
ONE of the functions of theatre is to take us into worlds we wouldn’t otherwise inhabit and Jane Upton does just this with her vivid and poignant three-hander All the Little Lights.
In this award-winning play, we spend an hour in the company of three girls whose situation is the epitome of misery and deprivation. Joanne, 16, and Amy, 12, are sleeping rough, bang up against an urban railway line with a distant view of little lights that shine from normal homes.
The third girl, 15-year-old Lisa, reluctantly joins them as they try to celebrate her birthday.
But as they exchange banter, apportion blame and prepare their pitiful meal, the shocking truth about their lives emerges subtly and inadvertently.
These children — and they are, unbelievably, children— have had no-one to care for and protect them, ever. No responsible adult, no system, no do-gooders, no laws.
Their abused, messed-up minds are in such disarray that they swing to and fro from humourless laughter to casual violence and from gestures of affection to moments of sudden delight.
They live like scavenging dogs but are worse off. These girls are constant prey to serious sexual predators who treat them as filth yet who provide the only human solace for their broken hearts.
What is so extraordinary about Upton’s play is how she effortlessly drip-feeds insights through authentic dialogue which has no vocabulary for the girls’ plight.
Tessie Orange-Turner as Joanne is fearsome and vulnerable all at once. And, when she asks Amy (a cheerful, winning Esther-Grace Button) to go and fetch her nana’s new baby for them to play with, we tremble in case another Jamie Bulger case rears its monstrous head.
But then she softens and marvels at the stars and listens in awe to stories told by the imaginative and troubled Lisa (an empathetic Sarah Hoare), who is the only one who seems to clock their devastated hopes.
Director Laura Ford and designer Max Dorey create a memorable slice of life and their talents, in what is a little jewel of compassion, show us what the girls themselves are powerless to acknowledge.
Runs until November 4, box office: arcolatheatre.com.