Writer: Joel Samuel and Lilly Pollard
Director: Celine Lowenthal
Part gig and part theatre Sugar Coat is an homage to punk and Riot Grrrl. It’s also a salute to alternative ways of loving and living. Like punk, Sugar Coat sticks two fingers up to tradition.
Sugar Coat are a punk rock band, although their sound is more Washington State than London Town. They are five women – womxn in the publicity – with three of them on guitars, one on drums and with Dani Heron on lead vocals. All the music they play is original, composed by Lilly Pollard, who ensures the bass is suitably loud, and the songs are reminiscent of Bikini Kill, Veruca Salt and Le Tigre.
The show begins with Heron playing a 17-year old girl, brainy and confident, meeting her first love, the equally nerdy Dean. They date for a year or so, do well with their exams and do even better in bed. Heron’s mother is okay with this and suggests that she goes on the pill. But even though the contraception is meant to be 99.99% effective, Heron becomes pregnant. She’s left with a big decision to make.
Each scene is only a few minutes long, and Heron speaks into the microphone as if she is just chatting in between songs, and it is a useful way to blur the lines between theatre and performance. After every scene, the band play: the songs don’t move the story along like those in musicals but match the emotions of our hero as she travels to university to study biology, meeting new people in her halls of residence.
Each member of the band take turns to play these new acquaintances and lovers. Rachel Barnes is excellent as Heron’s mother and sex therapist, and Anya Pearson is spot-on in her portrayal of Gaz, a guy Heron meets after university. Drummer Sarah Workman is terrifically engaging as Dean while Gracie Lai is the effervescent and liberated Kat. Along with Heron, all bring subtlety and humour to their roles.
The story is quite brutal at times, and writers Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard take no prisoners in their graphic descriptions of the tragedies that befall Heron, but never do these details feel gratuitous, and Heron’s wry asides help soften the pain. Refreshingly, parts of the story seem new with ideas that are not usually discussed on the stage.
Unfortunately, there are few problems with the sound and the bass sometimes completely muffles the vocals. A few songs stick out: Sugar Coat itself, and In the Morning, which is so good that it is reprised. And the final song just might have you on your feet.
Sugar Coat succeeds in confusing the genres of gig and theatre, and the band’s energy is so infectious you’ll be reaching for your air guitar.
Runs until 15 March 2020