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the sugar syndrome

Cecelia Peters and Lucy Miller as mother and daughter.

In THE SUGAR SYNDROME a character eats raw cake batter from a large mixing bowl … with a knife. It’s an unusual choice in a production of unusual choices. The directorial concepts of this thoughtful show have evident logic and meaning yet it feels like a production on the edge. The choices don’t always gel, yet the show is good, entertaining in a creepy kind of a way but I left vaguely unsatisfied.

Dani is who she wants to be. It’s the early days of the internet. We hear the dial-up modem presaging her interactions. She is 17, back from a stint in an eating disorders clinic, jigging college, hating on her father and especially her mother. On-line and then in person she meets Lewis, a geeky boy with aspirations to be a music critic and a strong belief that Dani will allow him to have sex with her.           

She also meets Tim who, because of her name, assumes that she is male and who is duped into thinking that she is an 11 year old. When she meets up with this ex-school teacher back from his own institutional visit, a stint in prison for paedophilic activities, there is some initial blackmail and then an uneasy friendship develops. Her mother meanwhile is wrapped in a cloud of denial and rose coloured glasses until she chooses to see what is really happening around her.

It’s an unashamedly dark text, blackly funny in places and overtly unpleasant in others. The first production of Lucy Prebble’s play was in 2003 but it feels earlier. It’s that feeling that the pre internet world was a long time ago yet this production design is as modern as possible. A very wide white space with narrow LED filled boxes creating a fallen city effect on the back wall. Perhaps representing the “neon burning bright” of Dylan’s SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE which is used as counterpoint.

The seating puts you uncomfortably close to each other but a long way from the action, especially from the sequences at Lewis’ place on stage right. This ‘use the whole space and codify the sites’ is one of the directorial choices which makes logical sense but is annoying just the same. Jessica Arthur has also used the levels of the space but with too many scenes on the floor where the second and third rows simply can’t see. I’m not that keen to be confronted with vomiting or jerking off but there was too much of the action lost for me to fully appreciate the work.

Luckily there is that great script and really good performances to offset the distancing effect. As Dani, Cecelia Peters moves easily through the spaces with a clearly defined character and throughline in all her interactions. She has that indefinable actor’s gift of being able to listen. Her face tells the story, moves the character forward and informs the audience responses by sharing Dani’s interior world.

Tim is a very difficult role which is very well tackled by Michael Abercromby. On first meeting he appears a bit too nervy but he settles into a calm deludedness. I really enjoyed the way he managed to use his accent and intonations to convince me of Tim’s absolute belief that his unconvincing justifications would wash.

Nicholas Denton’s Lewis shows a incremental slide from inadequacy to disturbed violence and possibly psychosis. Always excellent, Lucy Miller brought Jan, the mother, on with her: fully formed, understandable and relatable. But I wanted more warmth at the end when the women find a point of contact. Yet I see why there needs to be some iciness there.

Tim is a classicist. At least that is how he sees himself. The ILIAD as a justification of man/boy love is perhaps more to the point. So the coldness of statuary and posing and mimetic interpretations of classic literature with disrobing and twisting and murder are inserted into the production. Sometimes they distract, other times they absorb and take attention away from the main action. In a way perhaps this does the audience a service.

The ending of this drama is terribly shocking and an emotionally fully engaged audience member like me might find it too hard to bear. So perhaps that vaguely unsatisfied feeling was merely self-protection and refusal to engage.

THE SUGAR SYNDROME continues at District 01, 7 Randle Lane,  Surry Hills until June 30.

Congratulations to The King’s Collective for their handling of the issues they have had with the venue. The Karaoke from upstairs has impacted on their performances. They have closed down to install some soundproofing in the ceiling, kept their patrons up to date by email and social media and have adjusted their performance times. Great customer service guys!

For more about The Sugar Syndrome, visit


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