Review: All the Lights Are On by ACE-Production

New writing from Finland gives tearjerking portrayal of a family disrupted by cancer

★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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All the lights are on
Published 06 Aug 2018

Cancer is shit. And it's unfair. And it's heartbreaking for whole families and extended families. This new play from Finland's hot young writer Kaisa Lundán will draw plenty of tears before the Fringe is out. A strong Scottish cast perform the roles of cancer sufferer Emmy, her husband Petri, her mother and her godfather—Ashley Smith, Ali Watt, Wendy Seager and Mark McDonnell, respectively—as they tumble through the tummult of discovering her diagnosis to her drawn out final days. All are tender portrayals and Smith is especially impressive as she jumps backwards and forwards between early days optimism and debilitated palour, shifts in energy indicating continual shifts in time. 

This flash-forward flash-back technique in the writing is disorientating. Time expands and contracts, echoing the confusion of Emmy's mind as it jumps forwards and back through her memories, and isn't always dramatically clear. Whether the delusions are a side effect of her tumour or her treatment is never disclosed, but the distress they cause—especially to those around her—is evident.

Terror is glimpsed in painful bursts but, most tellingly, the major tone is light, reinforcing the determined strain to retain some sense of normalcy and optimism. Finnish names and foreign references, such as picking particular flowers for Mother's Day, or birch tree allergies, add to the never normal feeling of their world. Unpaid electricity bills pale in comparison to the illness that comes to dominate their lives. The play may not add anything new to our understanding of cancer's tragedy, but sensitive conversations about how to deal with death are always valuable.