The Sugar House is a tale of crime, justice, injustice and poverty as told through one Sydney family. Set in the suburb of Pyrmont we start with a young woman being shown an apartment in a renovated building and her strange reluctance to leave.
We then flash back to the woman’s childhood. She’s still in Pyrmont, but this is not the gentrified place of gutted factories turned into luxury flats. This is a place of poverty where the fear of crime is just as much about falling into it as it is about being a victim of it.
Victimhood runs through the play as a central theme. Lead character June Macreadie (Janine Ulfane) is a victim of the violent crime family she has run away from but she also victimises her daughter Margo (Fiona Skinner) who she struggles to show affection.
She has less trouble with her golden boy son Ollie (Adam Fitzgerald) – as she fights and fails to stop him being victimised by corrupt police and a deepy flawed justice system.
The Sugar House raises many issues around crime justice and punishment, class and class resentment, generational expectations and resentment and gentrification and its effect on a place and its people.
At times, it felt like it was almost trying to do too much – say too much at once. This story had a few too many sub-stories which – for me – had a detrimental effect on its ability to have an impact. I found the energy of the play a little too jagged, going as it did too often from zero to sixty sometimes within a sentence. This made it harder for me to connect emotionally with the characters properly. It also made the play at times feel both too slow and too fast. With scene setting that occasionally dragged interspersed with flashpoints that weren’t properly established.
There were two standout performances for me. Lea Dube as Jenny – the girlfriend and later wife of Ollie – turned in a subtle and engaging performance. Never quite at the centre of the action, her supporting role went from mischievous young woman to family rock smoother than many of the other transitions in the play. Given this was Dube’s debut performance, this was an extremely good start.
The other was the incredibly charming performance by Patrick Toomey (who I left the theatre with quite the crush on!). He played a number of characters and went seamlessly from the honest working class grit of Sidney Macready (June’s husband and the light to her shade) to the slick political charm of Justice Sheehan (who in real life was responsible for the final abolition of the death penalty in Australia).
There is lots to enjoy in The Sugar House and it gives you lots to think about. For me, it could have done with a tighter focus on some of the core issues, giving them more time for the talented cast and writer to explore at greater length. But overall, this is an interesting and thought provoking play and a good introduction to an under-explored area of Australian history.
- Written by: Alana Valentine
- Directed by: Tom Brennan
- Set and Costume Design by Justin Nardella.
- Presented by A Million Freds in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
- Photography credit: Pamela Raith
- Starring: Lea Dube, Adam Fitzgerald, Jessica Zerlinda Leafe, Fiona Skinner, Patrick Toomey and Janine Ulfane
- Finborough Theatre
- Until:Saturday, 20 November 2021