What I’m about to say will sound deceptively simple…but it’s worth it all the same.
Lucy Light has a demographic. I am that demographic. By hook, by crook or by Atomic Kitten, the playwright Sarah Milton had me at go. The tide was high. I grew up in Australia, but any girl who lived her teenage years through the early 2000s in the Western world knew exactly what the deal with this dance number was. I was struck by just how much I resonated with these two ladies.
“Do your eyeliner and put your boobs back in.”
Okay… maybe not that part. But here I am, a Thursday night, at Theatre N16, sitting in my early high school bedroom, or a variation of. Kind of like that H & M dress that everyone got, but in different colours, so it was fine. Actually, the set designer and my fourteen year old self both like purple. I’m in an unfortunately not-quite-raked audience chair in front of a comfy-lumpy-teenage-snooze single bed, with free standing clothing rack and a big poster of… you guessed it.. Atomic Kitten. The floor is a sandpit. You can imagine that a soundtrack of choice material played throughout the night to enthusiastic whistles and cheers throughout the female AND male house and it was the greatest applause that anyone ever had ever. Period. Okay… maybe not so far, but we were all thinking it.
And then there were the moments where a pin could drop. Silence would hit, a few words would hit harder, and just as we knew how to laugh along with their youth, we didn’t know how to greet their grief.
Lucy’s mother is ill. Lucy’s mother has breast cancer. Lucy knows this. Her best friend Jess, does, too. Even though Lucy hasn’t told her yet. This is the bond that over the course of an hour, we witness, in Sarah Ellis’ beautiful and funny piece which is less about cancer, and more about friendship.
Perhaps the saddest part is knowing Lucy has to make the choice to have a mastectomy. Perhaps the saddest part is knowing the love of her life married someone else. I don’t think either of these are the saddest part.
The piece is structured so that we first meet these women in their late teens. They set the scene. Jess wants to snog Dave.
Lucy: “Jess wants to snog Dave.”
Jess: “I definitely want to snog Dave.”
Hell, I think I want to snog Dave. I’m having all sorts of flashback moments. They pump the music and wonder…is this adulthood? “Well, we are drinking wine…”
The exposition is set through action, but also through a series of asides from the girls to the audience. We learn about Lucy’s mother’s illness this way. Unfortunately, this was one of the sole dramatic choices which didn’t work for me. I wanted a clearer understanding of who they were speaking to. There are some plays in which audience address works without explanation. Time transitions, monologues; all of this flowed; the asides could have been strengthened by a clearer backbone. But a small bone to pick, figuratively speaking.
The heart of this piece is the gloriously realised friendship. If you’re lucky enough to have had a close one, you can’t help but feel their rapture, their longing and the fear of the unknown. Cancer has hung itself over their heads and made itself known to stay. The loss that Lucy must experience, and Jess’ loss of power to protect her friend, is razor sharp. But so is their loyalty. So is their history. Their depth and laughter. And most importantly, so is their love. The greatest lesson we take away is this obliterating element. Zoom out, and the love is all that matters.
We skip to five(ish) different time periods, in chronological order, greeting milestone moments in their shared experience. At the first leap, I found myself struggling with a jigsaw going, what? What’s with the 22nd birthday badge, aren’t these guys sixteen? Looking back, I’m just the slow turtle in reasoning.
Without giving away too much, we learn that Lucy’s mother has passed away, and that she now must face her own challenges with the disease. Not just her health; the impact on her personal life. The impact on her future. The impact on her assumptions about her future. Jess bears witness to it all.
“Being a woman is really, really shit.”
“Being a woman is really, really shit.” This she says in a moment of helplessness. It was a simple statement that reverberated around the room; I couldn’t help but steal glances at the men in the audience; the back of a neck, the profile of focus. The consideration. We are folded so intimately into the logic of Jess and Lucy’s relationship by this point that we are really, truly, listening. To what end? Not said for pity, or shame. Not to blame on a system, or a gender, or a God. I think to awareness. To consideration.
It is Jess’ struggle as a friend and as a woman which feels the saddest part of this story.
“How to cook a vegan flan? They suggest filling it with blueberries. So everybody knows that you’re healthy and vegan, but also still a Tory.”
Georgia May Hughes as Jess is compulsively watchable. I was absolutely thrilled by her performance, which was alive, dynamic, and put the focus on the other player in an earnest way. She was effortlessly funny, because she never tried to make a laugh happen. Facile with her craft, she understood the world implicitly and let her work unfold organically over the evening.
“I think Gary will always be that – you know, the sparky one.”
Bebe Sanders brought a lovely sense of maturity to Lucy, but was less successful at distinguishing between the ages in an authentic way. Lucy as a character is less likable gal pal, more fortune cookie in self-expression, but I did feel as though the accompanying performance did not seek to find more variation from this self-absorption. Sanders had less fight for herself, more resignation. Her most fully realised, believable moment was in the love lost with Gary, a man she was connected to her whole life, who married someone else.
“It’s funny how cancer makes you talk about shining lights.”
A very cultured friend of mine whose taste I thoroughly respect saw a play recently. She sees many plays. I asked her if she had enjoyed it. She had felt it was uninteresting, full of white people, and about previously explored issues. “We don’t need another one.” I don’t think she would have enjoyed Lucy Light.
Of course I see the inestimable impact and value of new voices, the stories of strangers, world apart, and diverse casts. If you’re a moron and don’t, well then fine, you’re a moron. These are gifts for our growth or our openness as audiences, and therefore human beings living in the world together. Is cancer new information? No. Is it less important an element? No. The story is more important than this element. The story is more important than cancer.
I don’t think my friend would have enjoyed Lucy Light. But I do not believe it makes it a lesser play. If an emotional landscape and story is truthful, we experience happiness, sadness and the like, as if for the first time. In life when one is sad they do not feel removed from the sadness because they have known sadness before. Instead, their relationship is almost more informed.
Lucy Light is true. Lucy Light is, in fact full, well-rounded, hilarious and moving. I am not of the opinion that drama must always be revolutionary; like life, it is a hodgepodge of style, disposition, sobriety and all a matter of our projection. That is the beauty of theatre.
Yes, I am the prime demographic candidate for this piece. Yes, this story is not new. But Lucy Light, like all resonant theatre, is human and is true. I don’t believe I was the only audience member moved that night. This is a great play. Go see it.
Lucy Light, by Sarah Milton, directed by Scott Ellis, played at Theatre N16 from September 19th to October 7th. To make a donation to the Eve Appeal, who fight women’s cancers and helped make this production possible, visit https://eveappeal.org.uk/donate/.
(c) Bianca Kenna