Insisting on Hope

by Alys Williams

Writer and performer Alys Williams talks about care, connection and audience participation in The Light House, an extraordinary true story coming to Park90 in April.



What is The Light House about?

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 as he experienced mental health breakdown. 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, 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.

 Tell us about The Light House’s journey to the stage.

 A few years ago, my partner experienced a mental health breakdown which included severe depression, chronic insomnia and suicidal thoughts alongside various other symptoms. He came extremely close to taking his own life and spent time receiving both inpatient (residential) and outpatient care.

Some time later, I was talking about our experience and someone referred to me as a ‘carer’. It had never occurred to me that I might have been a carer and I found the label bizarre and unsettling. Had I been a carer, or simply a partner who cares? At what moment had I become a carer, and was I still one or had I stopped being one at some point? Is it possible to be a carer without realising? It was certainly true that for a while there I’d decentred myself from my own life. For a while there, my whole reality had shifted and he became the focal point.

Our society is getting so much better at talking about mental health and suicide but I still don’t think we hear many stories about the care involved or the possibility of recovery. When my partner was so ill, someone encouraged me to distance myself, remarking that “some people are just always sad”. I’m not sure I accept that. I think a lot of people have stories like ours, where someone has ‘gone to the brink’ as it were but found their way back into the light, perhaps over and over again through the years. I wanted to tell that story, to insist upon hope. In the end, that’s all hope is.

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. The Light House has been developed over a couple of years with support from Leeds Playhouse and Red Ladder, funded by Arts Council England and we’re so looking forward to sharing it with audiences across the UK, from Scotland to London.

 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! The responses from audiences have been incredibly meaningful. One woman took on a role in which she was called upon to say “I love you” several times. Later she wrote to me that this had been “quite life-changing” for her, giving her an opportunity to redeem the words “I love you” (which had historically been difficult and painful) in an atmosphere of warmth, safety and connection. I’m so deeply grateful to her for sharing that moment with me. One man who participated 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.


The Light House plays alongside Sarah Richardson's dark comedy Sun Bear in this Make Mine a Double this spring, showcasing the hottest new voices in theatre. Playing for a limited run in Park90 from 2 - 13 Apr. Save £5 per ticket when you book for both shows together!

Production Trailer 


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