Gig theatre is tricky. It’s an adolescent medium on the theatre scene and can often be difficult to learn the ebbs and flows between story and music. At the top of Sugarcoat, lead vocalist, Dani Heron, tells the audience that we are invited to come up and dance whenever we’d like. However, the set-up of The Forge venue doesn’t really facilitate that in the same way an elevated concert stage with a pit audience would. It’s an awkward feeling, wanting to move but feeling bound by the social rules of theatre shows, so we bop along in our seats, heads grooving where appropriate. On the topic of appropriate, it’s that same invitation to dance that makes me feel uncomfortable later on.
Sugarcoat, written by Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard, is a beautiful and messy account of a young woman’s sexual journey to young adulthood. While the first half of the show revels in this punky sexuality and has the audience rapt in teenage ecstasy and fun, the later darker themes stop the energy cold. If I were to get up and move after some of the darker revelations, I would have felt extremely insensitive. It takes a while after these topics to get the audience back into a live music mood. Some women in the audience actually leave following the mention of these subjects.
Despite this jarring mash up of medium and content, Sugarcoat finds balance in its amazingly talented performers (Rachel Barnes, Dani Heron, Grace Lai, Anya Pearson, and Sarah Workman). Heron is a powerhouse on some higher vocals and I’m particularly struck by the comic timing, physicality, and wonderfully infectious performance of drummer, Sarah Workman, who skilfully moves through many relatable characters. The music itself is stellar, I do urge anyone interested in gig shows to see this production for the amazing musical direction of Pollard and the casts pure joy of playing. However, the sound levels/mixing is disappointing, it’s hard to make out more than half of what Heron is singing through any of the songs; for a gig theatre piece where the music drives the story, this is sort of a crucial element.
Praise does need to be given to Sugarcoat for its bravery and incredibly sensitive and poignant portrayal of a polyamorous relationship. Often a subject that is portrayed with judgment and humour, Sugarcoat shines a light on the beauty and tenderness in multiple partner relationships, something I truly wasn’t expecting. However, due to the sheer emotional weight of the piece, I couldn’t help but feeling a sinking feeling in my stomach rather than coming away from the Vault’s venue pumped up, riotous, and empowered. If that’s the intention, I understand but for a piece billing itself as a rebellious and punky night of sexual exploration, I left feeling a bit confused.
Written by: Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard
Music composed by: Lilly Pollard
Directed by: Celine Lowenthal
Produced by: Emma Blackman
Booking Link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/sugar-coat/
Booking Until: 15 March 2020