Cassie and the Lights
Cassie and the Lights
by Alex Howarth
VAULT and Adelaide Festivals 2020
Big Belly, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Brits Off Broadway, New York, 13th June- 2nd July 2023
London, 3rd-20th April 2024
Written, directed and co-designed by Alex Howarth
Producer: 3 Hearts Canvas
Live score composed by Ellie and Imogen Mason
Co-Designer: Ruth Badila
Lighting and Video Design: Rachel Sampley
Originally produced at VAULT and Adelaide Festivals by Sam Brain and Zoe Weldon
Stage Manager: Lauren Cross
Images: Pull Focus Productions
PR: Kate Morley PR
CASSIE- Alex Brain
TIN- Helen Chong
KIT- Emily McGlynn
MUSICIAN- Ellie / Imogen Mason
Can kids be parents? When Cassie's mother disappears, the teen wants to care for her younger sisters on her own. But is Cassie the right person to be a parent now, or should she let her foster parents adopt her sisters and create a new family? Based on real life events and interviews with children in care, Cassie and the Lights examines our ideas of what makes a family, and celebrates the incredible determination and resilience of teenagers.
Cassie and the Lights will return to London 3rd-20th April 2024 in a major Off-West-End venue.
CRITIC'S BEST SHOWS OF EDINBURGH FRINGE 2022- The Stage
WINNER- Best Theatre Week 2, Adelaide Fringe
WINNER- Excellent Play Award, Central Academy Awards, China
NOMINATED- The Popcorn Award for New Writing, in association with the BBC Writers' Room
NOMINATED- The SitupAward for social change
★★★★- 'glows in the darkness.. a thoughtful, warm, moving hour that will leave you wanting to call whoever you think of as family'- The Guardian
★★★★- 'bursts with life and quirkily observed truths, and it's guaranteed to break your heart'- Lyn Gardner, The Stage
★★★★- 'simply phenomenal'- New York Stage Review
★★★★- 'unique, entertaining and poignant'- Broadway World
★★★★★- 'authentic and heartwarming'- Theatre Life
★★★★★- 'charming and joyful... a uniquely beautiful show, and one I will not forget'- Lost In Theatreland
★★★★★ - ''something quite extraordinary' - Creative Reviews UK
★★★★★ - 'subtly captures the injustice... you may need tissues' - The Adelaide Advertiser
★★★★★ - 'delicately simple and wrenchingly complex...it is unmissable' - Adelaide Theatre Guide
★★★★★ - Glam Adelaide
★★★★★ - 'flawless...unlike anything you've ever seen' - Radelaide
★★★★★ - 'phenomenal, outstanding theatre... landing every wrenching blow, then picking us up with each wonderful moment' - Stage Whispers
★★★★★- UK Theatre Web
★★★★- The List
★★★★- Edinburgh Guide
★★★★- The Wee Review
★★★★- London Theatre 1
★★★★- Mickey Jo Theatre
★★★★ - ThreeDRadio
★★★★ - InDaily
Images from Edinburgh Fringe 2022
The Guardian, 15/8/2022
Family drama glows in the darkness... Alex Howarth’s hugely moving play has plenty of humour and a homemade aesthetic, while asking tough questions about parenting and the law.
When Cassie and her younger sisters are on a family bowling trip, their mum goes to buy slushies and disappears. Cassie is used to her erratic behaviour and covers as usual, reassuring Tin and Kit that she’ll return any minute. Except this time she doesn’t, and Cassie has to keep up the role of parent for months not minutes. The uncertainty remains a constant.
Alex Howarth, directing and designing his own drama for the company Patch of Blue, stages this episode as a play within the play. That it’s told with a sock puppet, a cuddly toy and Mr Potato Head, with the neon bowling alley popping up inside a suitcase, reveals a lot about his production’s homemade quality. On a set framed by a sheet and a washing line of clothes, this show authentically springs from the children’s sticky-fingered world. You sense the ice-cream dribbles and the Pritt Stick residue on Kit’s forehead from a school experiment gone awry.
With extremely affecting, delineated performances, Alex Brain (Cassie), Michaela Murphy (Tin) and Emily McGlynn (Kit) guide us gently through the story as seen from each child’s perspective. Kit, the youngest, focuses on the presents Mum might bring back from her “holiday”; Cassie sidelines her teenage dreams and shifts straight into multitasking middle age.
The adult characters are either heard in voiceover (for social workers and foster carers Mark and Alice) or, most powerfully, represented by the audience (when Cassie makes the case to us that she should become her sisters’ legal guardian). We are directly asked for our own notions of what makes a family. Mark and Alice are kind even if their house doesn’t smell like the girls’ own; Cassie knows her sisters inside out but is it fair on her that she should take full responsibility for them? Repeatedly, the play asks: what is enough for one person? And what is too much?
This difficult material, taken from true stories, is handled with off-centre humour. Mark “thinks Ariana Grande is something you get at Starbucks”; Kit lets an audience member wear her frog hat during an upsetting scene. Ellie and Imogen Mason’s electronic music, played live, heightens the lighting design by Rachel Sampley. A constellation of sources capture the glow of sisterly support while also (at one point literally) catching them in the headlights.
The script’s potent metaphor of the trinary star system could afford not to be repeated at the end but this is a thoughtful, warm, hugely moving hour that will leave you wanting to call whomever it is you think of as family.
Lyn Gardner, The Stage, 12/8/2022
Patch of Blue's theatrically inventive story of sisters in care bursts with life and quirkily observed truths
Cassie, Tin and Kit's mum said she was going to buy the three of them a slushie, but she didn't come back. It's not the first time she's disappeared. In the past,17 year old Cassie has held the fort so adeptly and with such love that her much younger siblings have barely noticed their mum is gone and before long, she's back again.
But this time it's different. Mum has completely disappeared and soon social services are knocking on the door. The trio are whisked away to foster parents Mark and Alice, a kind couple who shop at Waitrose and feed the children couscous. They want to adopt the young sisters. How can Cassie compete?
Inspired by a real story and interviews with children in care, Patch of Blue's play is reminiscent of Little Bulb's early show Crocosmia- not just because it features abandoned children and live music, but also in its sharply observed insights into children's minds, its playfulness and clever shading of light and dark.
The performers step in and out of the play and yet they always draw you back into the heart of the story as Cassie decides to put university on hold and fights for the right to look after her sisters.
The show would benefit from killing a few darlings. It often feels as if writer and director Alex Howarth has bunged every good idea he's ever had into the production. But better too much than too little. This show bursts with life and quirkily observed truths, and it's guaranteed to break your heart.
Creative Reviews UK, 3/2/2020
Cassie, Tin and Kit are three sisters fending for themselves after the disappearance of their mother, though the circumstances are surrounded in mystery early on for us as an audience. With the use of fairy lights, an old school projector, and a loop pedal amongst many other elements, Patch of Blue enchant us on a journey of sisterhood, bravery, and raw emotion that makes you want to hold on tight to those who we care about the most.
Alex Brain embodies 17 year old Cassie, a strong minded young adult whose main instinct is to step toward as the mother figure to her younger siblings, who at the best of times are still full of imagination and wonders that we all have inhabited at some stage as children. Tin and Kit are the two sisters in question, portrayed with impeccable vulnerability and childlike mannerisms from Michaela Murphy and Emily McGlynn respectfully, and as a trio each showcase their emotions to an exceptional level of dignity and realism, whether that's Murphy's innocence of dancing with Jake at the upcoming school disco, McGlynn's breakdown on wanting her mum to return following a 'Play within a Play' segment of the production, or Brain's closing deceleration speech where Cassie urges to be the soul guardian in her sisters. Rachel Sampley's lighting and video design captures some staggering imagery throughout.
Written, Directed and Designed by Alex Howarth, what he has managed to achieve is something quite extraordinary, leaving sniffles and tissues being produced all around come the rather uncertain future for the trio in a striking image at the final moment. Through his storytelling, Howarth allows the characters to interact with us through 'Tin Talks' and regular 'under the breath' moments from Alex Brain, which are unexpected but makes us roar with laughter. The direction flows so naturally from one moment to the next that all three performers on stage are clearly having the time of their lives with each other, even when they are squabbling when the loop pedal messes up, until having genuine delight when something seems to go perfectly right.
Imogen Mason and Phoebe Coco make up the final two company members on stage as the musicians in the background, who also make little cameo appearances throughout as small characters. Music is often the make or break of any production as it can sometimes come off unhinged and break away from the nature of the show, but here Mason and Coco play a variety of instruments that are cohesive with each other and drift perfectly into the action on stage; a rendition of Maisie Peters 'Place We Were Made' is even more poignant in the closing moments when the lyrics in question are mirrored with the story that we have been watching for the past hour, where one minute we are grinning from ear to ear to then suddenly feeling cold and small in feeling helpless to what's going on around us.
Overall, Cassie and the Lights is a beautiful tale of three sisters who care about nothing else in the entire universe than to be with, and look after each other. Though it's come to a close at Vault Festival for 2020, I cannot foresee this being the end of such a poetic production with a sensational company of cast and musicians.
Adelaide Theatre Guide, 23/2/2020
Theatre, at its very best, has the capacity to crawl inside your bones, your soul, your heart, and stir something deep inside. A play has the ability to be the ultimate tool for empathy, allowing you to understand a perspective and experience very different from your own. With nuanced writing and complex performances, the intimacy and immediacy of the form allows a powerful emotional connection with the audience.
“Cassie and the Lights”, the latest production from the UK’s Patch of Blue, is play that harnesses this power to tell the story of three sisters—sixteen year old Cassie, ten year old Tin, and seven year old Kit—whose notion of family is thrown into disarray when their mother disappears. Using music, projection, audio recordings, audience interaction and meta-commentary, “Cassie and the Lights” is a remarkable exploration of the resilience and fragility of childhood.
The three performers, Alex Brain, Michaela Murphy, and Emily McGlynn, greet the audience as they enter, chatting and directing them to their seats. The atmosphere is informal and intimate, warm and inviting. The stage is scattered with suitcases. What follows over the next hour are a series of vignettes that depict the experience of these three girls after they’re taken into a foster home. Other characters are portrayed merely as unseen voices—the uncontrollable external forces in their lives—and music and projection is also used to great effect throughout.
The heart of the performance, though, is the interaction between the three girls. Their dialogue is natural, their performances authentic, and we go with them from the joys of eating ice-cream and preparing for a Christmas disco, to the pain and confusion of their abandonment. All three actors are superb, playing their roles with great sensitivity for the complex inner worlds of young people, and their kinship is strikingly believable. The standout is Alex Brain as Cassie, the eldest of the three who has taken on the burden of responsibility for her small and broken family, even before their mother’s disappearance. Brain is utterly captivating; all of Cassie’s turmoil is portrayed with delicacy, heart and honesty. It’s a privilege to watch her at work.
“Cassie and the Lights” is based on real-life events and interviews with children in care, and it’s clear that the utmost respect has been taken to communicate these experiences without feeling exploitative. Director, writer and designer Alex Howarth has created something truly extraordinary with this piece of theatre. It is sad and it is fun. It is delicately simple, and wrenchingly complex. It is unmissable.
This Is Radelaide, 25/2/2020
London-based theatre company Patch of Blue made its mark on the Adelaide theatre scene when it brought it’s play We Live By The Sea to the Adelaide Fringe in 2017, winning multiple awards during its season including Best Theatre and Critics Choice. Three years later, they’ve finally returned to deliver another truly moving play in the form of Cassie and The Lights, written, directed and designed by Alex Howarth.
Telling the story of sisters Cassie, Tin and Kit whose mother has deserted them and in turn have been placed into the care system, the play explores the resilience of children, the fragile yet unbreakable bonds of family, and the inherent responsibility older siblings feel for their little ones. As the girls tell the audience from the outset, there are “some sad bits…but in a good way…and some funny bits…but in a good way, as most fun bits are…” and they really deliver on this promise.
Actresses Alex Brain, Michaela Murphy and Emily McGlynn carry this heavy play with their incredible strength as actors. They deliver flawless, believable performances of their respective characters; when adults playing children can make you believe they are children you know how much talent is before you. This is only aided by the clever costuming that suited each character’s personality perfectly. Their use of stage space is excellent – all three are present onstage from the moment audience enters, and hardly ever leave the space until the end of the show. Their development of rapport with audience through fourth wall breaks, directly speaking to and asking questions of patrons, is a great touch that draws viewers further into the story.
The set is haphazard like the lives of the characters living in it, made up of piles of old suitcases and clothes on a washing line. Props are drawn from these suitcases throughout the show to further illustrate the story, from children’s toys to balls of lights. The lighting and video design by Rachel Sampley is beautiful, using different colours and levels of intensity to vividly portray mood. The videos of the girls projected onto the suitcases and the sheet on the washing line are very well animated. The voiceovers of characters not played by the three actors, such as their foster carers and social workers, are very well performed and synchronised with the onstage action. Finally, the music written by Ellie and Imogen Mason, and played live by Howarth (because what can’t he do?) is stunning and emotive – a highlight is undoubtedly the use of the loop pedal to create a layered harmony of the three girls singing.
Howarth has developed a truly stunning story, rich with symbolism, that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It is an important story that is relatively untold in theatre or any form of entertainment, simply making it a must watch. All in all, if you are looking for a piece of theatre that will make you genuinely laugh, cry, think and feel, look no further than Patch of Blue’s truly moving play Cassie and The Lights.
Glam Adelaide, 17/2/2020
This original play, written, designed and directed by Alex Howarth, is based on real events and was developed around conversations with young people in care in the UK. Cassie, the eldest sister at 17, is played by Alex Brain while the younger sisters, Tin, aged 11, are played by Michaela Murphy with Kit, aged 8 played by Emily McGlynn. All three young women give powerful and moving performances while remaining true to their ‘age’ – Kit is obsessed with her frog hat which is her comfort blanket.
The play opens with Tin giving a TED style talk on triple star systems which have two stars orbiting close together and one further away which gives the whole system stability. This serves as a metaphor for the relationships of the three sisters who have been left alone by their mother. As Cassie struggles to be mother to her sisters, we hear the voice of a teacher telling her she will fail if she doesn’t hand in an animation project and her friend Donna excitedly telling her about being accepted for a Summer School they were both going to apply for.
Audience engagement is a key element in the production with Tin questioning someone about who is in their family – making the point that there are all kinds of families as the girls discover when they are fostered by an older childless couple. Cassie challenges the couple’s desire to adopt the younger girls in court, arguing she can look after them herself even if this means abandoning her hopes of going to university. Although the play is dark at times and moved me to tears, the love between the sisters and the humour they display offer flashes of light which demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit and the tenacity of Cassie in wanting to keep her fractured family intact.
Patch of Blue have again brought a not to be missed, imaginative production to the Adelaide Fringe.
Patch of Blue are no stranger to the Adelaide Fringe, returning to RCC after their previous hit, We Live By The Sea. Writing theatre that is about those doing it tough, those with that little extra challenge, or developing understanding of others’ situations seems to be Patch of Blue’s strength, because Cassie & The Lights is a beautiful follow-up to their previous outing.
Cassie is looking after her younger sisters Tin and Kit after their mother fails to return when she goes off to buy them slushies at the local bowling alley. This isn’t anything new, but for the first time Cassie is unable to find her mother and drag her back. A loving and selfless but impoverished woman, Cassie attempts to care for her sisters herself in anticipation of her mother’s return. After a stint where Cassie attempts to make ends meet, the girls end up in foster care with a loving couple. As she attempts to win custody of the girls, Cassie starts to wonder if she’s really doing what’s right for her sisters, or herself.
Patch of Blue have created yet another beautiful piece of theatre. Cassie & The Lights is charming, clever, and heartwarming. The use of clever set pieces and live music works well, and when the cast break the fourth wall it keeps you grounded and centred in the room. Each of the actors do a fantastic job, bringing life and a sense of realism to their characters and their stories. An engaging, touching piece of work that lives up to Patch of Blue’s excellent reputation.
What’s at stake when a child takes on the role of a parent? As a young girl fights to keep her family together in her mother’s absence, she’s forced to make difficult decisions.
Patch of Blue, the London-based theatre company behind the award-winning production We Live by the Sea (seen at Adelaide Fringe in 2017), returns to RCC with Cassie and the Lights, a show devised using interviews with children in care and drawing on real-life experiences in its examination of the notion of family. At its core is a recognition of teenagers’ powers of resilience and inner strength in the face of challenging life circumstances.
Cassie, age 17, has a talent for animation and is working towards pursuing her passion at university. She loves her two little sisters and is already shouldering the responsibility for much of their care when one day she finds herself in charge of the household. It’s a responsibility she’s sure she can manage, but the social services think otherwise.
Live music, sounds, recorded voices and projections accompany the action on stage. Throughout the show, the performers use a simple selection of props (old suitcases, toys, letters) as they tell us how they’ve ended up in a strange house in a part of town very different from where they’ve come from.
Under the coloured lights of the local bowling alley — the last place they saw their mother — the girls compose letters to their absent parent and dream of what life will be like when she returns.
All three performers inhabit their characters with ease and exuberance and give hilariously convincing portrayals of the children. Teenage Cassie (Alex Brain) is consumed by the pressure of protecting her siblings while hiding the truth about their mother’s shortcomings. Eleven-year-old Tin (Michaela Murphy) looks forward to the school dance and knows more about stars than “almost anyone”. The baby of the family is eight-year-old Kit (Emily McGlynn), a spontaneous dancer and biscuit lover who never goes anywhere without her green woollen frog beanie.
Like life, there are laughs as well as painful moments. When the girls are placed with foster carers Mark and Barbara they enter an upmarket world of Waitrose shopping trips, Netflix and exotic meals (couscous and artichoke hearts were never on the menu at home). What will happen, though, if the temporary housing arrangements are made permanent?
Writer and director Alex Howarth has created yet another absorbing work that explores challenging childhood events from the point of view of the child. Times may be tough for Cassie, Tin and Kit, but their strong bond holds the promise of a brighter future. Bring tissues.
FAMILY AFFAIRS AND OTHER MATTERS 11/02/2020
“Cassie and The Lights” had it’s world premiere during the Vault’s Festival last week – a surprisingly cool, urban, hidden set of labyrinthine space under Waterloo station. It’s only an hour long, but extremely punchy. Based on true events, the story follows Cassie (17) and her two young sisters on the painful journey they take after their mother disappears. Cassie takes on the role of “mother” and is a strong and supportive mentor for them, but is it right for her to give up her opportunities for university to look after them?
The play looks agonisingly at all the options left open to them as Cassie attempts to legally adopt her sisters instead of leaving them with their foster parents, an older, childless couple. It highlights a lot of issues with the legal system and the rights and wrongs of painful decisions that have to be made. It is dark and heart wrenching but with sparkles of light and humour – at times there wasn’t a dry eye left in the house.
It’s as much a take on the tragic tentacles that spread insidiously through everyone and everything after a parent has bolted and yet still manages to examine what ingredients are required to make a family. It celebrates the power of unity in extreme circumstances and a different guise. It also shows the incredible elasticity, resilience and tenacity of teenagers fighting for what they believe in and attempting to keeping the faith.
This is a wonderful, originally performed play whereby there is a lot of engagement with the audience. Cassie is played by Alex Brain, the two younger sisters Tin and Kit played by Michaela Murphy and Emily McGlynn. The play was produced by Zoe Weldon and Sam Brain and the fabulous haunting music is performed by Imogen Mason and Phoebe Wright-Spinks.
I was impressed.
STAGE WHISPERS 21/2/2020
When Cassie’s mum leaves them, the teenager wants to care for her younger sisters, who believe their mum is just “on holiday” – but can she really be the right person to be “mum”, or should she let foster parents create a new family?
Cassie (Alex Brain), who at 16 is the eldest remaining in the family, has taken on the role of mother for longer than just this latest disappearance. Her battle with her own aspirations, cruelly relegated by every demand from her unknowing kid sisters, is heart breaking, but the determination to take care of her family has us all hoping for the redemption she deserves.
Tin (Michaela Murphy) is just becoming aware of the adult world: her talk on stars is from a kid who knows she knows more than us; yet practicing her steps alone before the school dance with a boy is a child anxious to know the ways of the grown-ups. Murphy’s enthusiasm and optimism is infectious.
Emily McGlynn’s portrayal of the youngest sister Kit is astounding. Her fidgety innocence, blurted blunt truths and green frog hat make up an ideal eight-year-old. Her perfectly timed humour punches through the distress and despair.
Alex Howarth has written, directed and designed the show and the tight work of the performers is phenomenal: there’s no doubt that these are sisters who know each other’s moods and ways. There’s an informality in how the three talk to themselves and the audience outside of the performance yet without interrupting the mood or motion of the scene.
The set is a clever collection of suitcases and sheets that define no particular place, evoking how these lives are lived permanently in temporary status; this is punctuated with projections as scenes change – allowing us to catch our breath between emotions.
This is outstanding theatre from Patch of Blue, who created the multi-award winning We Live by the Sea (Adelaide Fringe 2017) and this will be honoured the same. It’s written from interviews with children and carers and it’s a desperately sad and funny story impeccably played out by the three women, landing every wrenching blow, then picking us up with each wonderful moment.
THE PLAY'S THE THING 3/02/2020
This story, based on real-life events, follows the lives of three sisters – Cassie (Alex Brain), Tin (Michaela Murphy) and Kit (Emily McGlynn) – after their mother disappears at a bowling alley. Although the piece focuses on the teenage perspective of the British care system, it also acknowledges the differences within individual families, the value of these differences, and invites us to ask, what makes a family?
From entering the space to the final bows, we are welcomed into the sisters loving relationship. Much like how Kit and Tin claim their mother “holds their hands through everything, even the dark”, the cast guided the audience through the characters’ journeys by stating what is going to happen next, which makes the story clear and easy to follow. For example, when an upsetting or emotive section began, we would be told “this part is going to be a bit sad, but you can do it”. It puts us at ease.
The story is cleverly curated and delivered, but the beauty of the live electronic score, composed by Imogen and Ellie Mason and performed by Imogen and Phoebe Coco, cannot be ignored. The constant use of background music enhances the piece and created a strong atmosphere throughout.
This is also complimented by the simple, yet effective set designed by Alex Howarth and Georgia Cusworth. The use of luggage, bags and suitcases really sticks out, as it emphasis the temporality of the care system and the idea of living out of suitcases. I also appreciated the washing line across the back of the stage, which is used to project images and film onto. This evokes the old phrase, “having your dirty laundry out for all to see”, as the sisters are frequently shamed by peers for their circumstances and given no empathy. This prompts hard questions, such as, “how would you support someone if you knew this was their circumstance?”.
The piece is a great demonstration of the struggles of young people in the care system today and the prejudices that are present in society today.