Sugar Coat – Southwark Playhouse, London

Reviewer: Alex Vella Bartholomew

Music, Lyrics and Writers: Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard

Director: Celine Lowenthal

Who knew trauma and recovery could be so fun? This is a punk rock a nostalgia-fuelled gig with a big heart and an important message. The cast puts it succinctly, “f*** the patriarchy”. Get ready to put your big girl pants on and face the reality of girls’ and women’s experiences of their bodies in this world. It is a story that around half the population are all too familiar with; a carefree, liberated and joyous girl becomes hardened, afraid and repressed. But it’s not all doom and gloom. This laughter-filled play is also about women’s strength and one woman’s journey to living in her body on her terms.

The set, designed by Ruth Badila, screams girl punk bedroom with its pink and black colour scheme, piled up feminist books, and clothes streaming out of drawers. The band enter stage left and we are hit by the blast of live music as our leading lady Dani Heron headbangs and ‘rocks out’ to the opening number. The enthusiasm, raw emotion and freedom of Heron’s performance is captivating. She brings us into her world, locking eyes with audience members as if we’re in on her joke. Her sincerity and confidence is a reminder of that childhood freedom all women begin their lives with.

We follow a girl through puberty into womanhood. She has a positive childhood, a loving mother (single, but this is not a story about absent fathers or single mothers), a high school sweetheart who she loves, and a healthy relationship with sex. She loves sex. She was ready for it long before Dean, her boyfriend, was; he was waiting for a “sign”. To which she (un)compassionately replies “more of a sign than me saying let’s f***?”

Heron’s character is by no means perfect. She cheats on Dean, sleeping with a “beautiful boy” at a party. He is the cliché of cool, how could she resist? And then the pivotal moment in the play; she’s seventeen and pregnant. It’s the moment that her life diverges, sets off along another track, on a train only women are issued tickets for. She loses her baby, she has a miscarriage. Heron talks with abandon about topics we normally hide from, and it is liberating to watch. “I don’t know when personhood starts… I don’t give a f***… all I know is I had a connection to that [baby] growing inside me”. The pain is heart-breaking, she is heartbroken.

As with real life, life goes on. She heads off to university, and the play takes on a new rhythm. This is a new stage in her life, her independent life. The flatmates offer some light relief; a motley crew including a posh boy, a non-conformist socialist, a lovely lesbian, and a like-minded girl, all played with comic excellence. The writing beautifully laughs at and loves these characters. Their introductions receive big laughs from the audience who perhaps delight in laughing at themselves; a young crowd knows these characters personally. The play switches effortlessly between life’s trauma and life’s fun, capturing the concurrence of contradiction.

Sugar Coat is a well-rounded, real story of recovery. This woman who has been alienated from her own body finds a way to live in it again. She allows herself to be touched again, to be loved again, to be penetrated again. The five female and non-binary actors shine individually and as a whole, each giving a memorable performance. Heron is the only actor who remains the same character throughout the play. The four other cast members switch between characters, which amps up the comedic outcome (see Anya Pearson’s ‘beautiful boy’ become ‘like-minded girl’).

The music composed by Lilly Pollard is the sixth actor in this play. It heightens the emotions around each experience and provides a soundtrack to Heron’s character’s eight-year-long journey. The audience feels her sexual release as the band go all out when she loses her virginity. We also feel her grief after she loses her baby as we listen to moving vocals by Eve de leon Allen.

Although the story itself is fairly mundane given its prevalence, the play and the women who know these experiences are anything but. As a woman, you leave feeling seen. As a person, you leave with reverence for women’s strength. As an audience, you leave wanting to join the Sugar Coat rock band.

Runs until 22 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Girl Punk

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub