Cassie and the Lights

Based on true stories and interviews with children in care, Cassie and the Lights is the story of Cassie (Alex Brain), who has been looking after little sisters Tin (Helen Chong) and Kit (Emily McGlynn) since their mum disappeared on a trip to the local bowling alley. 

When social services get involved, the sisters exchange baked beans out of the can for Waitrose Essential artichoke hearts (which Kit doesn’t consider to be essential, once she’s found out what they actually are), but despite the outward luxury of their new life with foster carers Mark and Alice, the younger girls in particular still pine for their mum, or perhaps for a rose-tinted version of her who exists only in stories. 

Writer-director Alex Howarth’s play delves into complicated questions about the nature of family and whether older siblings can or should care for the younger ones when their parents are unable or unwilling to. Howarth introduces these big and often challenging themes with warmth and humour, and by framing the story as a play which the sisters are putting on themselves about their experiences, keeps the children’s perspectives at the centre of the narrative. 

All three performers are outstanding, but special mention must go to Emily McGlynn as youngest sister Kit, who shows us both childish euphoria and utterly harrowing emotion with equal finesse. 

Ruth Badila’s set captures the transience of the girls’ existence, with suitcases piled around. These also allow for quick scene changes as they can be moved or opened to easily transform the set. 

Additional dimensions are also added through the use of video footage (originally created by Rachel Sampley, with lighting design at Southwark Playhouse by Will Monks) and lighting to enhance the ongoing themes of stars and lights. 

Brain, Chong and McGlynn are the only actors to appear onstage, alongside one of three musicians performing on a rotating basis (two of whom, Imogen and Ellie Mason, are also the co-composers of the music). But the production makes use of recordings from a host of vocal talents, including Bethany Antonia (House of the Dragon), John Thomson (Men Behaving Badly), Louisa Harland (Derry Girls), Wendi Peters (Coronation Street) and Oli Higginson (The Last Five YearsBridgerton), as well as recorded audio from Brain, Chong and McGlynn themselves to add depth to the show.

The performers are also not shy about involving the audience, whether to relieve tension when Kit hands her beloved frog hat to a viewer for safekeeping before a particularly harrowing scene, or to increase connection as audience members are asked to become stakeholders’ in the girls’ fate. 

Cassie and the Lights is a poignant, funny and heart-warming exploration of the experiences of a group of young people in care. My only complaint is that it wasn’t given longer to unpick some of the themes which it touched upon in its 70-minute runtime. But this truly does feel like a show I will remember for a long time to come, and not only because it was the first and probably last time I ate a party ring handed to me from a performer’s dungaree pocket!

This show was reviewed on the 5th April 2024 at Southwark Playhouse Borough where it runs until the 20th April 2024.  Tickets available here: 

Review written by Julie Fisher


Photo credit: Claire Bilyard

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