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Theatre Review: Lucy Light @ Vault Festival

15th March 2019

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Lucy Light is a heart-breaking, hilarious, perfectly-pitched snapshot of a shared female experience: one that takes in socks stuffed down bras, the endless quest for wine before you're legally allowed to purchase it, relentless, speculative boy chat - and the uncertainty of how to react when one half of the friendship has a severely ill parent and a life-changing decision to make.

Image credit: Fay Summerfield

Lucy Light takes place in three highly-relatable acts (many hungover mornings feature prominently), and follows the shared journey of the eponymous title character and her best friend, Jess, as they navigate the death of the former's mother and her ensuing decision, as a carrier of the BRCA 1 gene mutation, to have preventative breast surgery at the age of 26.

The surgery, where breasts are removed in order to significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer developing, is a decision taken by thousands of women in the UK every year, although surprisingly there are no stats on the exact number. Often they, and others, will have their ovaries removed in order to lessen their risk of ovarian cancer.

The first third of the play is packed with early 00s references - hello, big changes in Atomic Kitten! - that are juxtaposed effectively with subjects that teenage girls should never have to contend with but all too often do: namely, a very sick parent and how that jars painfully with an otherwise carefree teenage life.

The comedy is well-pitched and will ring true for audience members in their late 20s (writer Sarah Milton is 27 and first started writing Lucy Light in 2015), whilst never quite straying into the overt darkness or maudlin that its subject-matter lends itself to. The humour is light, like the play's title, and serves to reflect the girls' culture and the fish-out-of-water nature of their situation, rather than strive for a deeper meaning. It's a good choice, because what we are watching is a play about young women who love each other unconditionally and are slightly silly (sometimes) and ultimately joyful (we hope).

Image credit: Fay Summerfield

The structure of seeing Lucy and Jess over three separate points in their lives - at the ages of 15, 22 and 26 - reflects the often fleeting moments we have to reflect on the big issues of illness and death: snapshots from conversations with friends over sick parents, briefly distracting charity adverts on the TV, or topline articles about women's health in glossy magazines. All of these moments, like the moments we're let into in this play, are single, sometimes a little too close for comfort, snapshots of a huge, complex story.

The simple but highly symbolic costume design, paired with directional choices made, adds a vulnerability throughout, with the majority of costume changes taking place on stage and in full view of the audience - something that serves to highlight the feminity and lack of control that the women have over the situations that they find themselves in. Powerfully, Lucy takes back this control in her empowering decision to go through with surgery.

The staging, too, is intimate, centred almost entirely on a single bed in which Lucy and Jess recover from hangovers, argue, talk about their dreams, eat takeaway food, undergo follow-up smear tests and ultimately prepare for life-altering preventative surgery.

The last scene, which writer Sarah Milton created first, is arguably the most powerful of the whole play. Here we are transported from the focal point of the single bed to the beach, always a transitory setting in art, where the future is reflected on in almost disconnected monologues and the future, different now from what it might have been, is looked towards with hope.

Lucy Light is playing at Vault Festival, Waterloo, until 17th March. Get tickets here.

Proceeds from the play are going to The Eve Appeal, the UK's only charity dedicated to the five gynaecological cancers: ovarian, cervical, vulval, vaginal and womb.

Read our interview with Sarah Milton, award-winning writer of Lucy Light, here.

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