Tag Archives: Patrick Toomey

The Sugar House

The Sugar House


Finborough Theatre

The Sugar House

The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 5th November 2021



“it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful”


In light of this week’s #FreeLunchGate, I’d first like to say I was given a small plastic cup of house white at the beginning of the show. Despite this glamourous perk, I will do my best to give a balanced and fair review…

The Finborough Theatre is not a large theatre. In its current layout, it can seat 40, maybe 50 at a push. So to have a cast of six for such a little audience feels very exclusive, particularly after the seeming endless spate of one-person plays in the last year. It’s a real joy to see a full cast interacting, laying out their various intimacies and tensions. The stage is pretty tight, but The Sugar House is a family drama, and the small space only emphasises the family dynamics, sometimes chaotic, sometimes conspiratorial, the audience sat right in the lap of the action.

This is ostensibly a story about the Macreadies, a working-class family in 1960s Australia who are struggling to get out from under, set against a backdrop of Australia’s last state execution and a long unending fight against police corruption.

But it’s universal in its particularity, exploring problems of generational poverty, endemic hypocrisy and modern society’s love of destroying the old in favour of the new and expensive. And at its core, it’s about how painful and drawn-out real change necessarily is.

Director Tom Brennan has brought together a strong, scrappy cast. Everyone carries a double-edge of deep misery and wry humour throughout the script, and though I’m no expert in Australian accents, I didn’t hear a single bum note throughout, something I’d otherwise find incredibly distracting.

Janine Ulfane, playing the grandmother, gives an especially complex performance. Her character is loveable but deeply flawed, and Ulfane deftly explores all the varying shades between. Jessica Zerlina Leafe, playing the granddaughter Narelle, carries the main weight of the play, opening in the ‘present day’ as an adult, morphing in to her eight-year-old self in the ‘60s, eventually becoming an angry belligerent twenty-six-year-old in the ‘80s. It is a little bit jarring watching an adult play an eight-year-old for nigh on an hour, but given the quick changes and multi-decade-spanning timeline, I can see why Leafe has to play the child as well as the adult.

Justin Nardella’s design is necessarily simple, but doesn’t feel at all lacking. A white brick wall with a mulled window acts as both a versatile set-piece and a projection wall, showing footage of Ronald Ryan, the last man to hang in Australia, as well as the cogs and wheels of the old sugar house, where Narelle’s grandpa worked, and various other titbits. A desk and two fold-out chairs serve any other prop requirements for the most part, leaving space to focus on the cast whose number already nearly clutters the stage.

There are no superfluous scenes, or boring chunks of dialogue, nonetheless, writer Alana Valentine could do with cutting twenty minutes, just for pace’s sake. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful.


Reviewed by Finborough Theatre

Photography by Pamela Raith


The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre until 20th November


Other review from Miriam this year:
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
My Son’s A Queer But What Can You Do | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | June 2021
Lava | ★★★★ | Bush Theatre | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
Aaron And Julia | ★★½ | The Space | September 2021
White Witch | ★★ | Bloomsbury Theatre | September 2021
Tender Napalm | ★★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | October 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews


A Princess Undone – 3 Stars


A Princess Undone

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 26th February 2018


“this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news”


The Royal Family have always been hot news, and this year in particular, is no exception. With another royal baby and a royal wedding on its way, the younger generations of the Windsor family are constantly being displayed as front-page headlines. This is nothing new. Before even the likes of Diana became tabloid fodder, there was one Royal whose name grew synonymous with gossip and scandal. Princess Margaret. Her Majesty’s sister had always been a somewhat elusive, mysterious figure, yet her name never strayed far away from the papers. In recent years, she has once again become a matter of interest, helped greatly by the overwhelming success and popularity of the Netflix series The Crown, and Ma’am Darling, last year’s best-selling biography by Craig Brown.

Now, it’s the theatre’s turn to try and get under the skin of Princess Margaret. Inspired by true events, actor Richard Stirling’s play, A Princess Undone, focuses on a particular moment within the late princess’ life where her antics were being upstaged by a new breed of royals, forcing Margaret to unwillingly retreat into the shadows. Stirling attempts to try and comprehend the ball of contradictions that the princess was wrapped within, however, the play is inconsistent in its execution of this, ultimately becoming a rather lacklustre and stuffy affair.

The year is 1993, a time when the Royal Family is struggling to keep face through its ‘annus horribilus’. Living within the apartments of Kensington Palace, Margaret (Felicity Dean) tries damage control, princess style, by enlisting the help of the Queen Mother’s butler, William Tallon (played by Stirling himself) to assist in stealing a selection of potentially scandalous letters, photographs and other personal correspondence from Clarence House – her mother’s residence. Whilst sifting through the piles of papers, ready to burn, Margaret coolly comments on her royal neighbours, whilst Tallon single-handedly deals with her haughty demands and droll remarks with assured repartee.

The witty yet stagnant first half includes the intrusion of the young Tristan (Alexander Knox), a friend of Margaret’s son, whose appearance is somewhat meaningless to the overall plot. It is not until the arrival of infamous gangster-come-playboy-come-actor, John Lindon (Patrick Toomey) that the dramatic tension starts to heat up.

There are moments within A Princess Undone where it shines, particularly within its humour. The sight of Felicity Dean in marigolds and a paper crown, smoking, drinking and prancing around to Desmond Dekker’s The Israelites on the record player, utterly personifies the Princess’ struggle between her dutiful persona and privately being conventional and problematic. However, there are also times where it feels bloated by the text, assuming that the audience has a decent knowledge of Princess Margaret’s life. Thank goodness I had flicked through the programme before the show is all I can say! Bogged down by its dialogue, this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Simon Annand


A Princess Undone

Park Theatre until 17th March



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com