Alex Brain on Cassie and the Lights at Southwark Playhouse

Written by Alex Howarth and based on real-life events and interviews with children in care, Cassie and the Lights, starring Alex Brain, Helen Chong and Emily McGlynn, celebrates the resilience of teenagers and features the voices of Bethany Antonia (House of the Dragon), John Thomson (Men Behaving Badly), Louisa Harland (Derry Girls), Wendi Peters (Coronation Street) and Oli Higginson (The Last Five YearsBridgerton).

We caught up with Brain, who plays the titular Cassie, to find out more about the show.

Q&A with Alex Brain

What can you tell us about Cassie and the Lights?

Cassie and the Lights is a story about three sisters who find themselves in the care system, with the oldest sister eventually attempting to gain custody of the younger two. It’s a powerful story based on verbatim interviews with those in the care system, discussing the nuances and flaws within the system and the love that siblings have for one another, and ultimately begs the question of whether or not kids are able to be the parents that they have lost.

What was it that drew you to the play?

I’ve worked with Alex Howarth for a number of years, and every time he manages to create something beautiful and heart wrenchingly true to human life and relationships – any project he’s attached to I’m keen to explore with him. But the play itself is arguably one of his best, and it’s the delicate relationships between close family in the face of being torn apart from one another that really grips me and makes it a story I want to share. Being a younger sibling myself, I’d do anything for my sister – and I feel honoured to be able to put voice to that through this show.

How have you approached playing the role of Cassie?

Cassie and I are very different – she’s a teenage girl, I’m nonbinary; she’s the oldest sister, I’m the younger sibling – but I draw a lot of inspiration from my sister and how she made me feel throughout our childhood. How I felt safer when she was around, how she was able to grapple with being a teenager in the face of any and all of our challenges, and how I looked up to her throughout all of that. I think about how to be the best older sister I could be, if I was one, and try to emulate the ways that she would take care of me. How she would try to shelter me from the things that hurt us – that’s how I’d want Cassie to shelter Tin & Kit.

How does Cassie and the Lights compare to your previous work in theatre and television?

Theatre like this is so different from larger shows and from television as it’s so intimate; so close to the people listening to you, telling the stories directly to them, and so every choice you make as an actor is so visible to every member of the audience as you take them on the journey with you in real time. It means that it’s so much more meaningful when you’re able to draw people in in such a way – and the way we use direct address and the way we essentially give the audience a “role” in the show makes it a story that we’re all a part of, even those who don’t have the direct experiences of the characters.

Is there anything you hope audiences take away from the play?

I hope that audiences will just see the world from a slightly different perspective. On the face of it, the answer is simple – kids shouldn’t be harbouring the responsibility of parenting younger children. But it’s a much more complex situation than that, and if people are able to take a moment to hear the story from another angle, to experience something that they wouldn’t otherwise think of experiencing, then perhaps their minds will change – and if not, at least they’ve taken the time to have a little empathy towards the situation and to those perhaps lost in the care system.

Cassie and the Lights is at Southwark Playhouse, Borough until 20 April