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  • Henry Longstaff

Sugar Coat - Southwark Playhouse

A pop-punk perspective on female sexual identity

The cast of Sugar Coat rocking out as a band, lit in an orange light with the words Sugar Coat lit up behind them
Photography: Ali Wright


Three years on from their award-winning run at The Vaults Festival, Sugar Coat is back and raring to bring the roof down. This is an unapologetic bombardment of feminism paired with a drive to understand one’s own body through the tremendous highs and chilling lows, utilising live music inspired by Riot grrrl punk-rock bands of the 90s and 00s - proper gig-theatre. And yes, Dr. Martens or Converse are compulsory.

Expectant microphones wait in the bedroom inspired set, designed by Ruth Badila, as houseplants, clothes and gender-critical literature litter the floor. But as soon as the band enter we are off in a whirlwind of rock and sensory overload. Head-banging to Lilly Pollard’s original score as Martha Godfrey’s lighting design punches vivid colour into the space and the coming-of-age story begins. A story of first loves, teenage pregnancy and rape triggered disconnect between personal desires and physical reactions, bookended by the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Inspired by a true story, Lilly Pollard and Joel Samuels’s script is brutal in its detail, daring us to look away, but of course we can’t. Tearing through familiar topics of young romance and heartbreak before veering into experiences that would wound the strongest of souls, Dani Heron leads in the storytelling as the band’s vocalist, the music an outlet for her anger and vulnerability. Her performance is visceral and believable, guiding us effectively through the trauma yet finding space to laugh nonetheless. Despite navigating the heaviest of topics, the space consistently feels safe and accepting, a true testament to the entire creative team and their approach to themes of such sensitivity.

The band members rotate in delivering the supporting characters in the tale. Rachel Barnes (bass) is charming as her quiet and consistently supportive mum, Sarah Workman (drums) adorable as the teenage Dean, and finally, Anya Pearson (lead guitar) and Eve de leon Allen (rhythm guitar) forming the patient couple that aids her in her recovery amongst others. The onstage chemistry is a delight to witness, with the all-female and non-binary ensemble committing completely to assist in the storytelling, ensuring its accessibility.

The body of this production, of course, lies within its music and Lilly Pollard’s tunes do not disappoint. Ranging between full grunge and acoustic harmonies, the melodies wield an innate ability to channel the emotions of the characters in a way that is simply not possible through words alone. Moments after Heron’s character has miscarried, a stirring number led by Eve de leon Allen perfectly encapsulates the hidden loss and the sudden affliction of normality resuming - stirring and breathtaking.

Though there are some imperfections in the pacing of the show, Sugar Coat successfully challenges the status quo in terms of sexual identity preconceptions and the unknown battles so many face daily. Sadly the story will be ever so familiar for many, but this production provides a roaring cacophony that screams you are not alone in the struggle. A knockout rendition of buried representation through gig theatre.

Running till 22 April - Tickets

Photography - Ali Wright

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