The Solid Life of Sugar Water
Graeae Theatre Company & Theatre Royal Plymouth
The Dukes, Lancaster
By tilting a bedroom through 90 degrees, as well as tipping over any preconceptions about disability, Jack Thorne’s deliberately provocative play offers a whole new angle on a relationship.
This is not so much fly-on-the-wall theatre as an all-seeing lens on the ceiling that also projects a couple’s intimate thoughts and conversations back on to the floors and furniture of that most private part of any home. The language, and those sur-titles, is frank, honest and often deeply discomforting.
Graeae theatre company’s mission has always been about breaking down barriers, and giving disabled actors equal billing. And while this 80-minute play might be just as affecting performed by any other duo, there is a more significant audience experience afforded by Genevieve Barr, who is deaf, and Arthur Hughes.
Here they are Alice and Phil, a couple whom we see on their first meeting, subsequent dates, and how they cope with a heart-rending tragedy. Thorne is a skilled stage and TV writer who knows how to slice up such a chronology and serve it backwards and forwards in time. His language also has an unassailable truth and detail to it, especially when it comes to those conversations we always mean to have, or even the tense or choice of pronoun we use.
The bedroom, and especially the bed, become a kind of shrine to Alice and Phil’s loss, emphasising the intimacy, and sometimes the distance between them. The stark contrast between her birth agony and his ecstasy of conception is one of those moments of theatre forever seared on the memory.
Little wonder it’s already garlanded with praise and is heading to London’s National Theatre for a three-week run. A remarkable play given an outstanding performance.
Reviewer: David Upton