Theatre review by Lorna S Myles – Sugar Coat at Vault Festival, opening night 10 March 2020.
When I heard that LW faves Dream Nails’ guitarist Anya Pearson was appearing in a punk-pop feminist “gig theatre show,” with music inspired by Le Tigre and Veruca Salt, well, this sounded like the kind of thing I should investigate. After all, I am a woman-of-rock, and my 4real answer to the question “which album first got you into music?” is “The Sound of Music soundtrack.” And I remain a fan of the musical format, and I stand by it!
However, I confess I had some fears as to whether a feminist coming-of-age story was entirely the entertainment I was looking for at the current time. Y’know, what with the world falling apart in every direction, with the failure of democracy, the destruction of the environment, meanness and selfishness and infectious diseases and everything… was I in the right space to listen to stories of heartache and loss and good/bad sex etc? Would it feel trivial? Would it be too earnest? Would I just want to go home and inventorise my tea bags etc?
It turns out, though, that Sugar Coat was exactly what I needed.
Viewers, I hadn’t smiled all day. But from very shortly after the band started playing, the corners of my lips turned up, just a little bit, and then a bit more, and oh, it was wonderful.
So you have a four-piece band – two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer – all womxn. And you have the protagonist, who occasionally joins them on vocals, and mostly just tells her story, walking around in front of them, talking to us all like we’re her new best friends she just met at a bar and is entertaining us with the story of her life. She’s fucking funny, though her story is sad and painful at times. And the band members double as the voices and faces of people she tells us of – her first boyfriend, problematic shags, her mother, flat mates at Uni and so on.
And, because it’s a “music play”, every few minutes there’s a song. But it’s a song played by a feminist punk rock band, right there in front of you, like you’re at a gig in a subterranean amphitheater. And they move from punk to grunge to funk to pop to riot grrrl, and every song and every lighting decision reflects and enhances the mood, and we’re right there in her story, feeling it, but never getting too intensely-intense. There are poignant moments, there are difficult moments, but before it ever ever gets too earnest or sends you spiraling off into introspection or awkward memories, there’s a beat or a wry look or a comment about toast sliding off your lap and landing peanut butter side down on the floor, and everyone laughs, and everything feels light again.
And I thought about how sometimes, when life feels fraught and on the brink of collapse, what is needed is an escape into a warm room. Not escapISM, not a pretense that everything is OK; but an acknowledgement of pain, through experiences shared frankly and in the context of a hilarious night out with someone you just met.
Anyway, this did it for me.
It’s on until this Sunday 15th March, with performances at 7:30pm each night and a matinee at 4:30pm on the Saturday. And it gets my vote, for an hour and a half of blessed respite combined with an invigorating dose of “fuck the patriarchy!”