Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Fern Studio)
I am ashamed to admit that having lived in London for so long it’s made me increasingly desensitised towards homelessness. Because of the constant exposure, I’ve normalised it in my head – which should never be the case. For this reason, I went to see Sugar? with high hopes of educating myself.
Lily Bearwish, Belle Day, Zoe Vearncombe and Anne Mowbray (aka Suspension Theatre) have a brilliant idea, involving Bristol Methodist Centre‘s homeless shelter and recording interviews with those who visit the centre. To validate the work even further, the company have chosen to perform verbatim, thus placing the actual words of the contributors directly under the spotlight. But for such an urgent subject matter, the outcome is rather too light-hearted. Music, movement and sound effects are playfully added to build anticipation, surely for some hard-hitting lines, but they never arrive.
Intended as piece of frontline theatre, Sugar? does do a good job of reminding us that we’re all the same. Whether we have a home or not, we still share the same feelings of shame or fear, hey, we may even have the same taste in tea. But theatre is a powerful tool and, as such, should be expected to dig deeper into an issue, allowing untold stories to rise to the surface. This hardly happens here; the stories lack poignancy and the narration moves on before we ever really connect with the characters.
Looking at the reasons behind homelessness, the focus is put on the bigger political picture. Local administrations are rightfully portrayed as being both aloof and incompetent when it comes to affordable housing. However, personal circumstances like mental health, addiction or abusive family backgrounds are either completely absent here or only given the briefest of mentions.
Encouraging the audience to give their spare change might raise questions about a do-gooder attitude that sustains their precarious living rather than trying to eradicate its deeper-rooted causes.
I leave the auditorium unsatisfied. I know I’ve seen a well-devised show with an overly sweet message, but that the company’s mission of harnessing empathy and promoting change has only been partially fulfilled.
Devised, Directed and Produced by: Suspension Theatre
Sugar? plays at Greenside @ Nicolson Square until 20 August, 6:40pm. Further information and bookings here.