The Southwark Playhouse is often the birthplace of some incredible little works with big potential. Proving to be another of these, newcomer Sugar Coat, is the ultimate pop punk treat to enjoy, created by Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard. Fusing teenage angst with long lasting trauma, and a selection of exhilarating original songs, the all female and non-binary cast champion feminist ideology and body empowerment while telling a story that is simultaneously heartbreaking, amusing and even comforting.
As if the audience are immersed into a gig by the five very talented actor-musicians, it is within this set up that Dani Heron begins to weave in the journey of a young girl going through adolescence, in the battering way many of us do. Sailing through school, she also enjoyed going to parties and hanging out in her band with friends when not studying, or spending time with her then-boyfriend, Dean (Sarah Workman, also on drums, and other characters). Once daring and flirtatious, she finds her confidence come crashing down through a series of a progressively horrific events in a downwards spiral, which requires a huge amount of growth and healing to overcome.
Furthermore, playing various roles and respective instruments across the narratives, Eve de Leon Allen, Rachel Barnes and Anya Pearson secure the cast, and becoming parts ranging from posh housemate to lovely lesbian; beautiful boy and a sex therapist. We see a supportive mother throughout too, which is an important addition to the layered meanings presented. There is ample investment in each character, and despite the lack of change in the space, we can picture exactly how the scene would pan out as if transported there purely from the spoken word.
That being said, the set- designed by Ruth Badila- is wonderfully fit for purpose. The title illuminates centrally, and band own their own area decked in grungy posters with a pink undertone, each easily visible for their time to shine, and Dani as vocalist and storyteller in front. Martha Godfrey's stunning lighting compositions give the piece a true gig-like essence, yet assist creatively with the softer moments when needed too.
Some absolute crackers of tunes help illustrate major happenings along the messy path that occurs and are impactful by hitting at all the sweet spots, showing lots of potential. With direction by Celine Lowenthal, the performance is a liberating reclamation of soul, but in a gentle and safe way, as to be sensitive and not overpowering, though neatly contrasted with the electric volumes that the tracks provide. It's loud, sweary, and sexual, with strong themes and an unexpected alternate ending- or maybe just the beginning?
Sugar Coat has big things coming for a little show. Not a single element missing or goes unthought of, and after 90 addictive minutes without a single dull moment, you'll still be after more.