“The Light House” and “Sun Bear” at Park Theatre

Tom Bolton in north London
8 April 2024

“Make Mine a Double”, the Park Theatre’s initiative to get more early career and fringe theatre-makers onto its stages, is back. Devised in 2022, it offers theatregoers more for their money with two shows in an evening in their smaller, Park90 space. It is an admirable initiative, expanding the Park’s repertoire and giving it a new and potentially important role in the fringe ecosystem, which needs all the help it can get. As a result, this month audiences have the chance to see two one-woman shows from up-and-coming writer/performers which otherwise might struggle to find a London home.


The Light House.
Photo credit: Ant Robling.


The Light House is written and performed by Alys Williams, who trained at École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq in France, famous for its approach to physical theatre, mime, and clowning. It is her debut play, developed through a programme at Leeds Playhouse, and shows considerable promise.

The piece is highly personal, dealing with the suicidal depression of someone close to her, and leaves some of the audience in tears. However, Williams’s achievement is to make her experience of trying to care for her friend and navigate hostile healthcare systems involving, and a positive collective experience. The purpose of the show is, she says, to be together for an evening and deal with things we usually have to handle while “adulting on our own”. Audience involvement, which Williams handles lightly and with great charm, plays a constant role, filling in the missing characters in her story.

Williams explains her experiences through the metaphor of the “man overboard” procedure on ships: shouting and whistling to raise the alarm, throwing a lifebuoy, and then pointing for as long as it takes. This theme is restated rather too often during the show, but acts as a neat metaphor for the terrifying experience of trying to save someone who is drowning in despair. The show, directed by Andrea Heaton, includes moments of clever physicality, including the use of an Anglepoise lamp as a puppet version of Williams’s friend, and a brief sequence of expressive and moving clowning. A simple wooden box set by Emma Williams creates a neat range of spaces.

Alys Williams is an immensely likeable performer, with a rare ability to hold an audience. The Light House is focused on her personal experience, but would gain significance with the addition of some wider context (for example, the show raises, but does not answer, many questions about the Irish healthcare system). Her talent for physical expression could also be used more extensively. However, as a first-time playwright Williams has a success on her hands, and her progress is clearly worth tracking.

The second show of the evening is a more stripped-back and visceral experience. Sun Bear, written and performed by Sarah Richardson, a more traditional monologue, is an excellent piece of writing. Richardson, playing Katy, has nothing but an office desk and chair, plus a pot of pens, and she is focused on the latter. At first, she seems amusingly furious with her work colleagues over small things – pen stealing, lunch orders, social invitations. This makes a lot of sense – after all, who hasn’t wanted to tell their colleagues what they really think of them.


Sun Bear.
Photo credit: Jacob Cox. 


But we soon begin to realize that Katy’s anger crosses the blurry boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour, and that she is trying, and failing, to escape the impact of a coercive relationship. Although she has left her abusive boyfriend, fear continues to fill her head and haunt her life.

Richardson’s performance and writing work together exceptionally well. She draws the audience into her rollercoaster story immediately and keeps them on the edge of their seats for an hour, with nothing but the occasional lighting change. Not a word is wasted. She is very funny, but her writing is disciplined and everything is in the service of the story. Richardson gives a gripping and entirely convincing account of what it is like to live with someone who controls every aspect of your life.

The play’s title refers to a species of small bear which is vicious when eventually roused, a metaphor left to do its work unexplained. Sun Bear is just Richardson: no creatives are credited apart from the lighting operator. It is a serious achievement, a quality work of great promise. Richardson has won awards already, and will surely win more.