Theatre in Wales

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The Reasons that Make a Long-runner

The Best of Touring Theatre

Sugar Baby- Dirty Protest , Soho Theatre , May 23, 2018
The Best of Touring Theatre by Sugar Baby- Dirty Protest Dirty Protest's impact at Edinburgh in 2017 was subject of a summary feature 14th August below. The reviewers tended naturally to focus on actor and director. “Alex Griffin-Griffiths owns the stage” said one rightly. “Director Catherine Paskell” wrote another “chooses to keep the stage bare but, thanks to superbly shimmering lighting design from Ace McCarron, it never feels empty. McCarron and sound designer Dan Lawrence bring technicolour to a show that could so easily work fine in a black box setting.”

A new reviewer, giving “Sugar Baby” five stars, focussed on the author. “Alan Harris returns with yet another quality piece of theatre. He sticks to the formula that has served him so well – throwing frighteningly realistic characters into absurd situations, all reined in with an irreverent and sweet sense of humour.” This is true but the writer underplays the formal qualities. The application of formal discipline is theatre's crucial fuel.

It is a good writing ploy to start with an ending and work backwards. Alan Harris provides a conclusion that is not just unexpected but completely logical. That it is joyous as well is an added audience bonus. An audience needs an anchor, a critique in my review of the company's last tour. After a high energy opening it is done within eight or ten minutes. Hero Marc belongs to a co-operative, the nature of which has consequences of hazard. Something serious is at stake. There has to be something at stake to make theatre work. The plot may then take some picaresque byways but we know that something lies in wait.

Fourthly, a one-actor show is still a drama and Harris populates his story with eight characters. Dialogue is enacted by a technique of simplicity. Alex Griffin-Griffiths jumps one hundred and eighty degrees to represent each part. Lastly, a stage is a place of sound and vision. Harris' writing is consistently visual. Even an act of retribution on the hero's father is accompanied by a unique visual image. The craft here runs deep. It may not be noticed but that is the nature of craft that builds art.

“Sugar Baby” is the antithesis of government-capture theatre. As such it is set to run and run. David Alston, to his credit, was instrumental in its showing in Dresden. It returns again this summer to the Fringe under the aegis of Paines Plough. A tour is promised. Interest has been expressed from the USA, Australia, Mexico. The difference from goody-theatre can be seen. Look just to the scene in a park that involves an icecream. It needs courage to conceive and to enact. Most of all it could not exist in any medium other than on a stage.

In January 2011 I reviewed David Grieg's similar long-runner “Midsummer” and lamented that his love-song to Edinburgh had no equivalent in Cardiff. “Sugar Baby” is not “Midsummer” although Oggy is not so far from “Big” Tiny Tam Callaghan. Alan Harris is more absurd, in its precisely critical not colloquial usage, less ruminative. But to be even mentioned in the orbit of Greig is accolade, evidence that “Sugar Baby” is simply tremendous theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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