Sometimes I go all Valerie Solanas and prefer my theatre to represent that kill all men theory; they’re just oppressors, punters or abusers. Better still, lets laugh, learn and forget that men even exist (the wonderful High Steaks). Queer, Feminist Performance-Artist & Clown, ELOINA was awarded show of the week at the Vault Theatre Festival and this production Sugar Coat, an all-female cast representative of non-binary, lesbian and heterosexual orientations with a live band on stage for the whole show also received this honour in the past.
Now it belongs at the Southwark Playhouse, London SE1 until 22 April. It may have all the signs of alternative theatre but this is a good old musical for the generation that just ticked Other in the recent census, the first to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The play is fast paced story-telling, and comedy and tragedy hold hands, as in real life.
We, the target audience of Sugar Coat, are identified by our musical tastes (Riot Grrrl bands and the original and their own phenomenon, Babes in Toyland), but don’t be fooled into thinking anyone who doesn’t like feminist punk rock won’t enjoy this play. It’s perfect for a date night, whatever your non-identity, identity or sexual orientation.
The play’s title Sugar Coat reflects exactly what the team do not want to do; to sweeten issues that include love and romance, pregnancy and miscarriage. The story-telling also communicates the part the female body plays through this wonderful game of life, rewriting stories of the body with a narrative that acts as verbatim.
The sensation of an actual sugar rush is good description of the experience for the audience, despite the fact we’re working through the sexual experiences of the protagonist (played with flair and sincerity by Dani Heron) from the age of 16. This needs to happen because this is what Sugar Coat is all about: the representation of what gender fluidity – an ‘other’ beyond lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual – looks like over life time. What it feels like.
If anything, the original rock music (credit to composer/cowriter/co musical director Lilly Pollard) is a prop, just like the books visible on your way out, tucked into the corner: The Transgender Issue, Her Brilliant Career, Women Of The Left Bank, Feminine Sexuality.
The music itself is aimed at a more mainstream audience – a good choice, this reviewer concedes. The musicians are also the actors, some developing the craft, although a special hat tip to drummer Sarah Workman and rhythm guitarist Eve De Leon Allen for their crossover skills.
The Southwark team were legally bound to point out a notice on the door reminding us of content that may be distressing or shocking. What does this tell us about the society we live in? “Theatre is life and life is theatre,” said Adorno Artaud, the only cool and probably sensible thing the supposed pioneer of the Theatre of Cruelty ever said.
They give out lollipops at the end but I’ve already had enough rushes for the evening, thanks to the timing and stage production, the live rock music and the gargantuan energy and enthusiasm of lead Dani Heron.
Sugar Coat continues at the Southwark Playhouse until 22 April – info here