Sugar, a film from Open Clasp

Published: 14 February 2020
Reporter: Peter Lathan

NE-based women’s theatre company Open Clasp’s latest work, Sugar, is an intimate piece of theatre made for film, devised with women who are homeless, on probation or in prison.

A probation office, a prison cell, a homeless shelter... Sugar's setting is an abstract world where we meet three women all ‘doing time’ in very different ways, caught in a waiting space of continuous floors and revolving doors.

These women are three survivors with three voices that are seldom heard.

To create Sugar, Open Clasp worked with the Direct Access Homelessness Service in Manchester, West End Women and Girls Centre in Newcastle, HMP Low Newton and national charity Changing Lives to show—and honour—the hard realities of lives lived in and around the criminal justice system.

“This is an important and urgent piece of theatre, a state of the nation,” the film's writer and Artistic Director of Open Clasp, Catrina McHugh, said, “and it asks audiences to step into the shoes of women and to see the world through their eyes. To agitate for a society that works together to end violence against women and girls and ensure provision for all those who have experienced trauma, poverty, homelessness, discrimination and injustice. Sugar argues for alternatives for women to prison, for prevention, for better provision of care and support for those released from prison.

“This project for us has been a life-changing experience. This work matters, we learn so much from working together with people who are at the margins of society, those who are at their most vulnerable and in need of support, care and empathy.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that their voices are heard and that change is agitated for. We said to the women they deserve a medal, as they survive experiences that no one should ever have to and many wouldn’t be able to. They are strong, courageous, and intelligent, and they deserve, in the words of one woman, ‘to have memories that are positive for a change’. They are the change makers, they invest their time, take risks and stand tall. We meet these women as equals, standing in solidarity and together we make change happen.”

Sugar will première at Live Theatre in Newcastle on International Women’s Day, Thursday 5 March, at 6:00. There is also a special preview screening at Words Weekend at The Lowry in Salford on Sunday 29 March. The film goes on general release in June.

It follows the company’s other work based on the experience of women in some way involved with the justice system: Key Change (2014), Rattle Snake (2017) and don’t forget the birds (2018).

The members of the cast are:

  • Christina Berriman Dawson whose theatre credits include Key Change (Open Clasp, New York Theatre workshop, Off Broadway and UK National Tour & live filming Space/BBC), Under Milk Wood (Northern Stage), Rattle Snake (Open Clasp) and Beyond The End of the Road (November Club, Sage Gateshead & UK National Tour). Radio, TV and film work includes Nowt To Look At (BBC Radio Drama), George Gently (BBC) and feature film The Magdalene Sisters. She was awarded the 2017 Live Theatre Bursary and her show Children of the Night will be produced in Summer 2020 by Live Theatre.
  • Zoe Lambert who has worked on four previous Open Clasp productions as well as facilitating police training sessions in coercive control using Open Clasp’s play, Rattle Snake. She has appeared extensively on stage at Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Northern Broadsides, Bolton Octagon, Dundee Rep and West Yorkshire Playhouse. Her TV credits include ITV’s Emmerdale and she is about to start a season at the Royal Shakespeare Company working with director Erica Whyman (former artistic director at Northern Stage).
  • Taja Luegaezor Christian whose stage appearances include What Fatima Did (Derby / Tamasha Theatre Company), King Idomeneo (Birmingham Opera Company) and Uncle Ben (Graft Entertainment).
  • Paislie Reid who has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Frantic Assembly, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Contact Theatre. She first worked with Open Clasp in 2015 on Jumping Puddles. Other work includes two series of CITV’s The New Worst Witch, and most recently Sky Atlantic drama Tin Star and BBC Radio 4 drama The Last Woman Killed in the War.

Sugar is written by Catrina McHugh MBE and directed by Open Clasp Associate Director, Laura Lindow. camera direction and editing is by Katja Roberts for Meerkat Films, set and costume design is by Verity Quinn, lighting design by Ali Hunter and sound design by Roma Yagnik.