by Simon Longman
produced by Upper Hand Theatre Company
directed by Julia Stubbs

It’s no surprise that it’s raining in the Midlands. But the familiar woman on the doorstep holding a fish is!

Sarah hasn’t seen her sister Jess for twelve years, but now she’s here with a rucksack on her back and an apology.

Over the course of one night the bonds of family are tested as they attempt to reconnect, share wild stories and search for forgiveness.

Upper Hand Theatre returns to the Jack Studio after the success of their debut production of Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here with SPARKS, an off-beat story of sisterhood and finding your place in the world.


Lisa Minichiello | Emma Riches.

Creative Team

Director: Julia Stubbs | Lighting and Sound Designer: Matthew Karmios | Associate Lighting Designer: Matt Gibson | Set Design Consultant: Eleanor Wintour | Original music composed and performed by Hannah Reeves | Technical Operator: Tom Thornhill | Photography: Grey Swan | Produced by Upper Hand Theatre Company.

Performance dates

2-13 July 2024 at the Jack Studio Theatre, London.


SPARKS at the Jack Studio Theatre

Reviews for Sparks


“Sparks is full of dark humour, poking fun at both the ridiculous exploits of people at their lowest and the mundanity of regular activity.”

“Simon Longman and Julia Stubbs have done a masterful job of portraying women looking in on what makes an ‘ordinary’ life with ‘ordinary’ people and, not being able to achieve that, finding solace in each other. This feeling of grasping at normality is realised by the sparse domesticity of the set, designed by Eleanor Wintour.”

“Despite having a complex whirlwind of witty dialogue that opens the show, Riches never stumbles and, indeed, commands the stage.”

“Lisa Minichiello as Sarah plays the perfect foil to Riches’ eccentricities, conveying a believable feeling of abandonment that has built up over many years.”

“What Sparks lacks in traditional plot devices, it makes up for in symbolism and haunting glimpses into characters’ consciousness. These cleverly constructed ideas allow what is essentially two women talking in a room not to get tiresome and it leaves much to think about when all is said and done.”

“Such a shrewd script is bound to have a well-crafted finale and Sparks certainly delivers, keeping you on the lookout for those unexpected and all-too-rare bouts of optimism.”



“Sparks do indeed fly in Sparks… intelligent theatre”

“The storytelling was so strong in the performances… Minichiello’s Sarah proves to be as engaging in speech as she is in silence”

“these siblings are not yelling at one another, personal insults are not flying through the room, and they are both trying, in their own ways, to understand one another and indeed themselves”

“A gloriously unpredictable final scene is the cherry on top of a very appetising and multilayered cake of a show”

“An unusual and unique play, brought to life in a production that contains hilarity and dramatic tension in equal measure”



“A hilariously awkward story of sisterhood, grief and football playing fish”

“Sparks by Simon Longman lets us take a peek into the life of Jess (Emma Riches) and Sarah (Lisa Minichiello), estranged sisters meeting again after 12 years, beautifully directed by Julia Stubbs.”

“(Emma) Riches takes on a mammoth amount of text in this play, and she really does pour her soul into every speech”

“Lisa Minichiello gives an astounding performance as the quieter sister who appears to have her life together”

“this play truly takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions… Stubbs and all the cast do an amazing job of drawing the humour out of this text and making the audience feel like we are in the room with these sisters”


“Director, Julia Stubbs, delivers a pair of fine performances from her two principals”

“Emma Riches is all anxiety-suffused energy as Jess burdened with baggage both real and metaphorical”

“It takes longer to understand Lisa Minichiello’s Sarah. Her psychological issues are managed by a withdrawal from social life – a job, but no friends, a flat in a busy town, but no engagement with society, an anger at how her sister treated her displaced into an assault on a bullying swan. She has not even unpacked her belongings, but she doesn’t reject the bizarre offering of a goldfish, the significance of which only emerges in time”

“The two sisters brought back memories of Steptoe and Son, with the comic moments (and there are plenty) emerging from the tragic situation in which two family members who cannot love each other find themselves”

“Upper Hand Theatre has produced a bold play… the curtain comes with a real desire to find out what happens next”


“Riches commands throughout the portion of the play that effectively becomes an extended monologue for her character”

“As the play progresses, though, Sarah succumbs to Jess’s attempts to ply her with alcohol and drugs. With that comes an opening up of Minichiello’s performance, providing the actor with an opportunity for her own droll humour, especially in recounting a tale of an encounter with an unfriendly swan that reveals some unspoken similarities between the estranged siblings”

“Sparks remains strongest when it focuses on the verité of the sisters’ conversations and monologues. At its heart, it is a tale of a bond that has survived both women’s trauma; of two sisters who need each other but cannot be the person the other needs.”


SIMON LONGMAN is a playwright from the West Midlands. He is the recipient of the 49th George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and has previously won the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme. His work has been translated and produced internationally.

He is an Associate Artist at Kestrel Theatre Company, working in prisons around the UK. He also teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University.

UPPER HAND THEATRE COMPANY is a female-led theatre company providing opportunities for women and non-binary people in the arts. We’re aware of the lack of opportunities in this industry for these under-represented groups – it’s time to redress the balance.