Sarah Milton’s latest play, Lucy Light, began life as a single scene in 2015 (the very last one, in fact), going on to receive a professional reading the following year, before its first full production at Theatre N16 in 2017. Milroyd Productions have brought a brand new version of the play to this year’s VAULT Festival, presented in aid of the Eve Appeal: the UK’s gynaecological cancer charity.
Lucy and Jess are best friends. They’ve just finished their GCSEs and are getting ready for the end of year party with a combination of cheap white wine & Atomic Kitten – except Lucy has some news that she’s been keeping to herself for a while: her mum is being treated for breast cancer. When we next meet the pair six years later, about to celebrate Lucy’s 22nd birthday, it’s clear that her mum didn’t survive the disease and has tragically passed on the mutated BRCA1 gene to her daughter; made famous when Angelina Jolie announced she would be undertaking preventative surgery as she was at increased risk of cancer due to the presence of the same mutation. Now Lucy has to decide whether she will be “BPM’d” (bilateral prophylactic mastectomy) or not. As she grapples with her concept of femininity, she also has to consider the wider effects of her choice.
Following the publication of recent YouGov research which found that approximately 50% of British men and women are unclear about the female anatomy, this play couldn’t have come at a much better time. One thing that the Eve Appeal is campaigning for is better education about the reproductive anatomy, so any money raised by the production could potentially go towards helping this become a reality – and with March being Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, it also fits in perfectly with that, as the BRCA1 mutation increases the risk of the carrier developing this type of cancer (as well as breast cancer).
What Milton’s script does really well is combine the educational with the emotional. Lucy’s first monologue to the audience not only introduces herself and Jess in an entertaining way, but it also tells us about her mum’s cancer diagnosis and what this means at the cellular level – as well as the medical implications of her chemotherapy. Other illuminating bits of information about tests, symptoms & treatment are dotted throughout the rest of the play, so you do come out of the theatre feeling better informed as well as moved by Jess & Lucy’s story. It seamlessly charts 10 years of the pair’s friendship, from June 2004 to July 2014; the period details from the script and various props are instantly recognisable, and a bit of a nostalgia hit for anyone from that generation – the attention to detail on this must be applauded. Lauren Dickson’s direction brings a real vibrancy to the production, and the scene transitions are slickly managed.
There’s a great dynamic between Emmy Rose and Amy Clark as Lucy and Jess, who quickly establish their bond as best friends – this strengthens over time, as they face setbacks & challenges, and become disillusioned with adult life. Clark has natural comic timing which suits her character down to the ground (“I have absolutely no idea how to make this hilarious” is Jess’ response to Lucy telling her about her potential mastectomy, for example), and manages to be both funny & moving as Jess undergoes a precautionary smear test. Whilst Lucy is remarkably pragmatic about her situation for the most part, and no shrinking violet, there are moments where you can sense her feeling of isolation; Rose captures this perfectly, showing how overwhelming things are for Lucy with the subtlest of actions. Oh, and she really, really doesn’t like Jenny from Atomic Kitten…
My verdict? A moving and humorous play about the enduring power of friendship and the C-word – it’s performed and presented beautifully.
Lucy Light runs at the VAULT Festival until 17 March 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.