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Cassie and the Lights – Underbelly Cowgate

There’s almost nothing quite like youthful ambition and determination, and indeed there are examples of child carers who look after older relatives, so why can’t it work the other way around? Cassie (Alex Brain) looks out for Tin (Michaela Murphy) and Kit (Emily McGlynn) after their mother does a disappearing act. It logically follows that nobody really knows why she went away, or where she is, or if she is coming back: it’s not as if she is around to ask. The issue in this engaging story is that there is an alternative option, in the form of Mark and Alice (voiced by Andrew and Chantal Mackley respectively), foster parents who wish to adopt Tin and Kit.

Cassie and The Lights
Cassie and The Lights.

Murphy and McGlynn do a splendid job of behaving in an impressionable manner that children of their characters’ ages would. Brain’s Cassie is debatably more articulate than a stroppy teenager who would just like to be left alone to get on with things would be, although that’s more than excusable here – if anything, non-communication doesn’t make for very good theatre. There was a show stop at the performance I attended, and rather than walking off and waiting to be recalled to the stage, the cast stayed and engaged with the audience for as long as was needed, and quite honestly it was the best show stop I’ve ever sat through, retaining, even out of character, a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

The use of a loop pedal to create a harmony of sounds is never without risk, though the trio pull it off. The challenges Cassie faces are not just in the form of the local authority, social workers and college tutors who all seem to want their pound of flesh, but it’s also difficult when her younger siblings tell things to supposedly trusted classmates in confidence, who then relate such matters ‘in confidence’ to others, and so on, until such time as the entire school is aware of the situation, whilst also being aware that it’s meant to be a secret. But what is Cassie supposed to do? Sanctions or punishments would probably only make things worse, and anyway, the trio’s current circumstances are hardly her sisters’ fault.

Then there’s the soundscape (Imogen Mason). Ordinarily, sound effects and music that feature as near-constantly as it does here would irritate me, although in this production it adds significantly to the show: it’s clear, for instance, when the girls are outdoors looking at the stars (or ‘the lights’ of the show’s title), or at a bowling alley. The play doesn’t make grand criticisms of the care sector or anyone who works within it, and what are seen by others as unnecessary sacrifices on Cassie’s part are simply, for her, doing the right thing. I found myself siding with Cassie, as it goes – I don’t exactly regret it but I’m still not sure whether my time at university was really worth it, and if I found myself in her shoes I like to think I’d make a similar stance. Not an easy watch, but a captivating one nonetheless.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Can kids be parents? When Cassie’s mother disappears, the teenager wants to care for her sisters on her own. Is she the right person to be a parent now, or should she let foster parents adopt her sisters and create a new family? Based on real life events and interviews with children in care, and with live music, Cassie and the Lights examines our idea of what makes a family.

Cast: Alex Brain (they/them), Emily McGlynn (she/her), Michaela Murphy (she/her)

Live music played by Imogen Mason
Written, directed and designed by Alex Howarth (he/him)
Produced by Amelia Campbell (she/her)
Music composed by Ellie (she/her) and Imogen Mason (she/her)
Lighting and video design by Rachel Sampley (she/her)
Assisted set design by Georgia Cusworth (she/her)
Marketing design by Casey Jay Andrews (she/her)

Patch of Blue present
A new play with live music, based on a true story
Until 28 August 2022 at the Edinburgh Fringe
Big Belly, Underbelly Cowgate, 12:30pm

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