Writer and performer Alys Willams, whose extraordinary real-life love story, The Light House, comes to our Bramall Rock Void studio space on 5-7 October, guides us through the challenges of creating a play from scratch and the joys of audience participation.
Tell us about The Light House’s journey to the stage.
It has been a privilege to bring this show to life with such an extraordinary creative team and I’m so grateful for the support we’ve had along the way. In May 2022, I shared a 10 minute ‘scratch’ excerpt of the show at the Leeds Playhouse and started to bring together a small creative team. We developed the full production funded by Arts Council England last autumn and are thrilled to have received further Arts Council funding for a national tour.
The show feels more exciting than ever, with a new set, sound and lighting design, and we’re so looking forward to sharing it with audiences across the UK, from Scotland to London. We’re particularly grateful to the Playhouse, Red Ladder Theatre Company and Arts Council England for their on-going partnership and belief in the project.
What inspired you to create The Light House?
The Light House is a real-life love story. It’s about me, falling in love with an old friend and then journeying with him through a mental health crisis. As a writer, you can’t write everybody’s story but I know our experience wasn’t unusual and I hope it will connect with a lot of people. I’ve had some amazing conversations with carers while developing the show and it’s extraordinary how much the frustrations and anxieties and little wins resonate.
I’d like to think that we are honouring that experience on stage. In the end though, The Light House isn’t about mental health. It’s about love, and hope, and the way human beings hold onto each other when things get tough. It’s about getting through this messy, beautiful thing called life, together.
There is some gentle audience participation in the play – what does that add to each performance?
It’s a strange time to be making theatre. We’re in a golden age of TV and can enjoy incredible stories from the comfort of our sofas. But I think theatre has something very special to offer because it brings people together, something the pandemic taught us not to take for granted.
Every single performance of The Light House is different because of what each audience brings to it. I think that’s the most exciting thing for me as a performer. It’s vulnerable to perform something you’ve written – something about your own life – so the connection with the audience is everything.
It’s quite a unique form of participation. We’ve worked hard to make sure it feels safe and easy for people; we don’t want anyone to be squirming in their seats! I think my favourite piece of feedback came from a man who participated and, after the show, he told me that he usually hates audience participation but on this occasion, “I found myself hoping to be chosen, to help somehow. It felt like a privilege”. That’s what TV on the sofa can’t give you. That’s the dream.