Briefly at Edinburgh Fringe this year, Sugar? details the experiences of the homeless by including verbatim voices of those with genuine stories on the subject. Exploring this in an engaging way, the play hopes to educate, as well as entertain with the touching discussion.
Anne Mowbray, producer of Sugar? and director of Suspension Theatre CIC, a not-for-profit theatre company, has kindly given some answers to the following questions about what the piece entails.
Please may you explain what Sugar? is about?
Sugar? is about small and large things that matter to us. It’s about home, comforts, ambitions, awkward moments we find ourselves in, how we take our tea or coffee, and what position we sleep in.
How did this production come to light, and how did you go about gathering knowledge of the topic to incorporate real-life stories?
Belle Day, the founder of Suspension Theatre, had the idea in 2018 to make a verbatim play about homelessness, and started interviewing homeless people at an outreach centre in Bristol. Over the last 4 years, we have interviewed more than 100 people - both with and without secure homes - and asked them questions about their lives, their preferences, and the things they most want from life. The interviews were painstakingly transcribed, then used to devise the show. Every word spoken or heard throughout the piece is verbatim.
How does the piece blend different kinds of theatre?
Sugar? uses a wide variety of theatrical techniques to share their stories, including physical expression of feelings that were evoked, original music and song, and spliced these together with words from authorities that often make finding secure housing even more difficult. Sugar? is, in turns, comic, moving, thought-provoking and entertaining, and we weave in ‘meta’ moments throughout, expressing the ethical challenges we ourselves faced in gathering and using the material.
How do you hope your show will make audiences perceive homeless people?
The intention behind Sugar? is never to make audiences feel guilt, but rather to stimulate thought and discussion around the issues facing those without permanent, secure homes. More than anything, we want Sugar? to show that we are all human, and that we all have hopes, dreams, preferences and challenges, homeless or not. We have a ‘call to action’ at the end, asking audiences to see homeless people not as ‘other’ but as fellow human beings; just to give a homeless person a smile or a quick chat can make them feel less hopeless and ignored.
What is the significance of amplifying the voices of the homeless, how should this be done more prevalently?
People often find themselves homeless following trauma, relationship breakdown or physical and mental health difficulties. When you are homeless, you often feel out of control, with very little agency or advocacy. Using the real words of real people in Sugar? allows important stories to be shared in a way that might otherwise not be possible: we hear these often unheard voices, and can better understand their point of view, thereby increasing our empathy and awareness. This is the power of theatre that we hope to harness.
Sugar? audiences are given an opportunity to ‘Do 1 thing’ in support of homeless people, from smiling when we see them, through supporting charities to lobbying our MPs to make change happen more quickly to tackle the homelessness crisis. Suspension Theatre CIC’s website has links to assist people in making these changes, plus information for us all if we (or someone we know) find ourselves in a precarious housing situation: https://suspensiontheatre.org.uk/impact/
How can support be given to those who need it? During the making of Sugar? we have partnered with BillyChip, an incredible charity based in Bristol which produces ‘chips’ which can be bought by the public, who can then give them to a homeless person when they see one. Participating cafes and restaurants agree to exchange the BillyChip for a hot drink or a snack which the person can choose for themselves - again this is about giving people some agency and control over their own lives. BillyChip is expanding across the UK, and by highlighting their mission in Sugar?, Suspension Theatre hopes to spread the word about their wonderful work and hopefully encourage a wider reach for their scheme: https://www.billychip.com/
Why should people come and see the show?
People should come and see Sugar? if they want to understand homelessness better, if they like to laugh and be moved in equal measure, and if they want to see an incredibly talented trio of young women presenting real stories with ‘Verve, versatility and comic timing’ (UKTW 5).
Many thanks to Anne for her very insightful commentary on the show. Best of luck for the rest of the run, and with continuing to share these important themes that help vulnerable people with such kindness.
Tickets for the show can be found here: