The Solid Life of Sugar Water is currently at the National Theatre, and then its on tour. A Theatre Graeae production, I probably should have done some (any) research beforehand, it was probably better that I didn’t.
Backtrack to Christmas, and I was fortunate enough to see Arthur Hughes in a fantastic ensemble in Alix in Wundergarten. Only last week, I was listing it as one of my highlights in conversation with the Fairy Godmother, and at the weekend congratulating Difficult Stage that they would be making their way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I sat down in National Theatre’s Temporary Space, having recently encountered it when Iphigenia in Splott was on tour (I promise I won’t digress again!) and was immediately impressed by the Lily Arnold’s set, a strange sensation of falling onto someone’s personal space. I loved that even before the performance began you were being introduced to their time, broken sleep, dawn breaking, Lewis Gibson’s lighting design complementing the story from the outset.
And then we were introduced to Alice and Phil, a couple exploring how they had reached this point, and in the now, getting beyond it.
There were hints from the outset as to where the story would take us, but they were neat hints, completely overshadowed by the story of the past. Completely forgotten in the humour of the story, the lack of subtlety, the absolute ‘in-your-face-ness’ of sex.
Going to the theatre solo is not something I mind. Sat between two men I’d never met, holding laughter initially, slightly more uneasy. But like all good theatre you’re drawn in, and you’re laughing.
For reference, the gentlemen to the right of me didn’t really laugh until Alice and Phil’s second date at the Art Gallery, I sense this was self-identification- so I felt better… I’m digressing again.
The performance is quickly established as flitting between the here-and-now, and how this point has been reached. And in doing so, the script is so amazingly clever.
We join the humour 0f the first meeting, of the first dates, we are romantics and still laugh at the first sexual encounter with Dire Straits ‘Romeo and Juliet’ providing the fiction (oh, how many brownie points were won for having this track as part of the production?!). But all the time the, well, over-text, of the here-and-now was becoming apparent, of planned parenthood, and eventually of still-birth.
And how a relationship might, can, survive.
What I appreciated most about the performance was it didn’t allow you to become the focus, on some many occasions, I thought the story would be too difficult, a completely uneasy subject matter.
But the mix of humour stopped it ever being about any one other than Alice and Phil.
The crux of the production, of two people laying in a bed, one reaching orgasm whilst the other is in labour, birthing their daughter who has died.
Whilst it was the crux of the production, the overwhelming message from the story is one of communication, the importance of non-communication, especially when it is misinterpreted.
The bit I have missed, is that Graeae is a theatre company breaking down barriers and placing Deaf and disabled artists at the heart of the theatre. Genevieve Barr is a deaf actress, as is her character Alice, and Arthur Hughes has an arm impairment.
Communication is further enhanced by the surtitles which appear through the piece, reinforcing the moments where the other person is a part of the recollection.
Amit Sharma successfully creates a humour which detracts from the emotion, and emotion which detracts from the humour. As actors, Genevieve Barr and Arthur Hughes create a place for the audience to be, not as intruders, but not to be entertained. The play allows us to understand communication, and its importance.
The Solid Life of Sugar Water is at the National Theatre until the 19th March as part of a National Tour.