Tag Archives: Orange Tree Theatre

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER

The Solid Life Of Sugar Water

★★★★★

Orange Tree Theatre

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER at the Orange Tree Theatre

★★★★★

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER

“Both Katie Erich and Adam Fenton are immaculately cast. Initially seeming a strange match, they grow in strength as a couple before our very eyes”

 

In the programme, before any cast information or plot summary, Dr Michelle Tolfrey talks us through how best to support a friend who has lost a baby. Because of course, it’s such a fragile, awful situation in which, as she says, “you feel terrified of every word you say.” And despite the frequency of the tragedy in this country (director India Lown-Collins says that there were 2,597 stillbirths in the UK in 2021) we don’t really talk about it, because it feels so impossible to begin the conversation.

In this case, it begins with the least sexy sex scene- “Neither of us has washed in weeks”- both in thick knits and woolly socks, and using pillows and bed sheets to demonstrate physical intimacy, despite being only centimetres away from each other. One might easily mistake this for a comedy.

But this awkward, silly scene continues, spliced throughout, first in the telling of how Alice and Phil met, through their courting, to the first years of marriage, and finally to the pregnancy, and its premature termination. Suddenly this sex scene is not so funny, and the reason it’s not sexy is also the reason that despite how horribly awkward and seemingly unpleasant it appears to be, they insist on carrying on. Because at some point, they have to try to carry on.

I’m sorry I’ve told you the whole plot, but it doesn’t really matter. You already know where this is going as soon as you hear the subject, and ultimately it becomes a matter of degrees of tragedy: After something so awful happening to a young couple, can they make it through together?

Both Katie Erich and Adam Fenton are immaculately cast. Initially seeming a strange match, they grow in strength as a couple before our very eyes. Fenton’s enthusiasm and earnestness counters Erich’s bold forthrightness, and both are unafraid to show their innards without warranting much explanation. In fact, this is a theme of Jack Thorne’s play, that we are so entirely within the heart of the tragedy that lengthy explanation is superfluous.

Both leads have disabilities, but this is only worth mentioning because it’s near entirely irrelevant, except to say that director Indiana Lown-Collins has humbled the West End in their lack of inclusivity, showing how utterly immaterial disability is to quality of performance.

Ica Niemz’ design isn’t wholly unexpected, mostly taken up by a big bed that is made and unmade throughout. But it feels completely fitting for a story that, despite taking place largely in other rooms- hospital, cinema, gallery, post office- is always circling the marital bed.

Thorne has found a way to speak the unspeakable, with so much humour and humanity, my heart still hurts thinking about it the next morning.

 

 

Reviewed on 19th October 2022

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ellie Kurttz

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Rice | ★★★★ | October 2021
While the Sun Shines | ★★★★ | November 2021
Two Billion Beats | ★★★½ | February 2022

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

TWO BILLION BEATS

Two Billion Beats

★★★½

Orange Tree Theatre

TWO BILLION BEATS

Two Billion Beats

Orange Tree Theatre

Reviewed – 9th February 2022

★★★½

 

“There are some very interesting discussions being had in a way that feels fresh and nuanced”

 

You know how I know the boxy over-sized blazer trend is going to be something we wildly regret in seasons to come? Because I just watched two girls in full school uniform and I coveted their blazers. No, surely we can all agree that the English school uniform is most certainly not enviable. So something must be terribly wrong.

But Bettina and Asha are hardly concerned with their outfit choices. Sisters in year 10 and year 13 respectively, they often meet outside school on the concrete steps, both avoiding the journey home, though for different reasons. Bettina is being bullied on the bus by a group of nasty school kids. So she dawdles, hoping her sister will at least accompany her if not defend her. Asha, however, has no interest in going home until her mum has left for work at 6:30pm. They’re not talking because Asha submitted an essay critiquing Gandhi, which her mum is taking personally.

There are some very interesting discussions being had in a way that feels fresh and nuanced. The trouble, though, is that they’re presented as a singular conversation when actually there are quite a lot of things going on. First, we’ve got the idea that within a fight for progress, history often only remembers those voices most convenient.

And then there’s the idea that social justice shouldn’t be something you have to earn through good behaviour. And within both main discussions there’s the inescapable subject of race, of microaggressions and this country’s obsession with othering. But they’re not the same argument, and somehow they’re presented as one, all tied together by yet another idea about taking action, being the change you wish to see in the world, if you’ll pardon the Gandhi paraphrasing.

Of course it’s fine to have multiple ideas at play, but maybe not so many when the play is nearly entirely exposition; we never really see anything happen, rather we see the sisters discussing the happenings before and/or after. The subject matter is strong enough that the conversation holds my attention for a solid hour I think, but that’s about as long as my focus can handle without anything actually happening before I start thinking about oversized blazers and their place in the fashion world.

Playing Bettina, Anoushka Chadha’s performance is sweet and vulnerable. She’s excellent at throwing a little lip wobbler, and she shines best when the conversation feels more ad-libbed or verbatim.

Safiyya Ingar’s Asha, however, is in another league. Still so doe-eyed about the world in one sense, and so savvy in another, you feel like you’re really witnessing someone making massive strides in their self-discovery. Bold and hesitant in turns, Ingar is masterful at giving us glimpses of the impressive woman Asha will no doubt become, whilst maintaining an honest and winning naivety.

Debbie Duru’s design mirrors the simplicity of Sonali Bhattacharyya’s script’s set-up. Besides an LED bus screen, and a brief appearance of a very excited hamster it’s pretty much entirely up to Ingar and Chadha, surrounded by a few concrete blocks, to keep us engaged. And if the play were the right length, i.e., half an hour shorter, this would be plenty. The subject matter is meaty enough to do away with flashy production value or heaps of props.

It’s frustrating to see such strong ideas so intelligently expressed and beautifully performed, let down by editing. That said, Two Billion Beats gave me a lot to contemplate on my journey home, and I’d rather that than a slick one-hour with nothing to say.

 

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Alex Brenner

 


Two Billion Beats

Orange Tree Theatre until 5th March

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Rice | ★★★★ | October 2021
While the Sun Shines | ★★★★ | November 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews