Having first premiered in an acclaimed run at the 2020 VAULT Festival, Sugar Coat is finally back, this time at Southwark Playhouse. Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard’s gig theatre show follows one woman’s journey of self-discovery, beginning with her as a teenager in her first relationship, and then following the eight years after this. The show is based on a true story, and is performed by an all-female and non-binary band onstage.

Credit: Ali Wright

As soon as you enter the smaller of Southwark Playhouse’s two spaces, you feel as though you are at an intimate gig. With neon letters placed at the back of the stage, spelling out the show’s title, and instruments waiting onstage to be played, the space is filled with excitement.

Sugar Coat is refreshingly honest, telling this woman’s experiences of miscarriage, sexual assault, vaginismus, and polygamy, candidly and openly. Dani Heron leads the cast with a commanding stage presence, she proves to be a naturally captivating storyteller, and is both intensely relatable and hilariously sarcastic. Heron displays some stunning vocals, although there were sometimes where the lyrics were lost slightly, particularly within the songs that were spoken and not sung – I am unsure whether this is due to the sound levels, or her strong Paisley accent.

The cast bounces off of the audience throughout, the fourth wall never exists to begin with, as we are immersed within the performance from the moment we enter, included in a way I’ve not experienced before. The performance has a casual air to it, in a way which feels as though we could be friends in conversation. This means the candidness of the conversations never feel awkward, as we soon feel comfortable in Heron’s presence, as though we’ve been friends for a while.

Rachel Barnes displays impeccable character work, taking on the roles of Heron’s mother and also a sex therapist, she ensures both roles are distinct by giving each a different accent which means the audience can immediately differentiate between them. Eve De Leon Allen is endearing as Kat, and Anya Pearson’s performances as Like-Minded Girl and Gaz are excellent – in an incredibly solid acting debut. Sarah Workman is cute and loveable as the young Dean, Heron’s first boyfriend.

Credit: Ali Wright

The music is the star of this show, taking influence from Riot grrrl bands such as Verruca Salt, and 90s pop punk, the music is catchy and upbeat, and the lyrics are honest. The music is beautifully interwoven, only a handful of moments are performed without any music at all and these are the most poignant parts, where silence adds to the intensity.

Sugar Coat is a breath of fresh air, unlocking the vault on what our patriarchal society says women are and are not allowed to talk about. The show starts a conversation and empowers the audience to feel as though they can continue it once the show has ended. The portrayal of a non-traditional, and non-monogamous relationship is exciting, as it’s something which I’ve not seen on stage before, the fluid representation of sexuality is also something I wish we could see more of onstage.

Sugar Coat is fresh, unique, exciting, and unapologetically feminist. It’s intensely relatable, and evokes both tears and laughter in its audience. This is a sugary sweet piece of gig theatre – and I’m looking forward to seeing how this show progresses.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some tough topics are tackled, but this is a very self-aware production, with content warnings displayed throughout the venue, post-show self-care resources available and the audience are encouraged to leave whenever, if they need to take a breather – they can re-join when they wish to do so.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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