Review: All the Little Lights at Tristan Bates Theatre

Tuesday 13th August 2019 at the Tristan Bates Theatre.


Three girls meet to celebrate a birthday. What begins as a recognisable silent feud of one friend feeling replaced by another quickly begins to prove itself a much darker and more complex story. There’s a history here to unpack and a future to consider carefully. There are layers to the quips and the tales of adolescent bravado. Jane Upton’s narrative plays out as pieces of a puzzle falling damningly into place and with a script finding depth in charged simplicity, there’s a very gripping dynamic at the heart of this play which shifts along with our perceptions of the girls. 

Upton’s characters capture the cruelty of the situation perfectly. Joanne is as brutally untamed and dangerously unpredictable as Lisa is guarded and silently wounded. They’re matched in strength of distinct characterisation by Amy who is a cleverly constructed character – a merging of the comic fool and the vulnerable innocent. Each distinct character is utilised to demonstrate the actual or potential damage the depicted experiences cause and by the end of it all, there’s not one character we couldn’t be compelled to take to heart.

Erin Mullen is a quietly powerful force as the reluctant Lisa. She gradually builds a sense of alarm and dismay with every element of her performance and the tentativeness of that performance is matched strength for strength by Lucy Mabbitt’s unsettling performance as Joanne. 

In Mabbitt we find our villain-victim. She crafts a complex character with a strange charisma and a building sense of recklessness which only vaguely masks a very real torment poking through the surface. Emily Fairn completes this excellent trio as the young Amy – all eagerness to please, all comically uninhibited and thoroughly endearing. 

The dynamics between the girls shift mercilessly and Mullen’s writing builds to a dramatic head repeatedly as small revelations and twists arrive within raging dialogue or a silently sinister look. The writing strikes a discerning and at times affecting balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary elements of the girls and their relationships with one another. Their exchanges are all things between the mundane and the devastating to the playfully childish and the crudely sexualised. What may seem typical becomes supremely atypical within a moment and it’s in those insidiously ‘simple’ moments that the true hideous nature of the beast is discernible.

This is an excellent play which takes a disturbingly blunt look at sensitive and important subject matter. It boasts a fantastic cast directed by Hannah Calascione and gritty, insightful writing which often delivers its greatest power in its simple scripting and quietly complex performances. All the Little Lights is a glowing example of how to bring attention to a key issue with both affecting realism and a respectful sensitivity.

All the Little Lights plays the Tristan Bates Theatre until 17th August 2019 and you can find your tickets here.

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