As much as it's nice to have a little break in the middle of a show, sometimes a lack of interval is a real blessing. In the case of Little Light, it allows the tension to ramp up without distraction as events unfold in realtime, the drama crescendoing towards a shocking climax.
However, it takes time to tune into Alice Birch's quirky dialogue. There is a distinct rhythm to her script that sometimes feels disjointed, with amusing repetition, witty remarks and sudden shifts. This works to throw us off the scent and keep us guessing in what begins as a typical dinner party drama. Alison (Lorna Brown) and Teddy (Paul Rattray) are hosting, inviting her pregnant sister Clarissa (Yolanda Kettle) to the table in a long-standing tradition. What that is we're initially unsure of, but when Clarissa's new partner Simon (Paul Hickey) arrives unexpectedly it throws tradition into disarray.
The script cements these offbeat characters, their family values seeming foreign and strange: their conversation, their choice of food, their repeated mannerisms. Simon, then, is our conduit into the drama. Kind and gentle, he is far too polite to make a scene but is as confused as we are at the behaviour of the others. There is much comedy in the situation, the early scenes perfectly encapsulating the awkwardness of the outsider at a family meal, the bristling tension between characters tangible in the air.
Soon, the play takes a darker turn as the reasoning behind these almost psychotic characters is revealed: grief. After a terrible tragedy, the embittered Alison has become consumed by jealousy at her sister's pregnancy; Teddy is helpless to assist her; and the charmingly quirky Clarissa falters under the weight of guilt. Perhaps too often the plot is presented through monologue, but each is delivered poetically and profoundly by the outstanding cast as their world crumbles around them - literally in the case of the simple yet effective set design. Kettle, in particular, offers a heart-wrenching performance as Clarissa.
Little Light ultimately is a rich exploration of the fear of childbirth, the typical 'family with a dark secret' narrative given fresh individuality in this production. After the success of Pomona last year, it's clear that the Orange Tree Theatre is intent on offering new and exciting drama. Long may it continue.
Watch: Little Light runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 7th March.