OTR review: The Sugar Syndrome
The Sugar Syndrome is a piece of relatively new writing (2003) from the then-22-year-old Lucy Prebble. It is a play about the boredom and meaninglessness of life as perceived by […]
The Sugar Syndrome is a piece of relatively new writing (2003) from the then-22-year-old Lucy Prebble. It is a play about the boredom and meaninglessness of life as perceived by anorexic, 17-year-old Dani, who proceeds to fill this void with sex. After befriending Tim, a well-educated older man she meets over the internet who just so happens to be a paedophile, Dani becomes intrigued by his controversial predilections. Dani tries to vicariously enter Tim’s world of reckless immorality, and the minimalist set easily takes on the form of a bedroom, house and park bench to facilitate this journey.
What made Tasmin Swanson’s production so chilling was her lead actress Coco Claxton’s thoroughly realistic rendition of Dani. With seemingly effortless don’t-look-at-me body language, and lethargic speech broken up only by flickers of ineloquent irritation, Claxton embodied teenaged angst in a way that was gripping, as well as natural. Claxton’s acting style was also complemented by Alex Levine’s as Tim. Instead of trying to play up to an audience, the two of them seemed rather to be absorbed in their own nuanced and understated roles.
However, although there was something refreshingly original about Levine’s normal, calm, even pleasant portrayal of Tim (like a cyber-version of Humbert Humbert), and although a portrayal of a paedophile as a creepy, out-of-control animal would have seemed too obvious, this decision on Levine’s part did mean that the final moments of the play – that took the audience through Dani’s realisation of Tim’s past vis-à-vis the rape of an 11-year-old boy – were not so much shocking as simply unbelievable. Otherwise, his was a subtle and convincing performance.
Dani’s 22-year-old loser boyfriend Lewis and her recently separated mother Jan are far less fascinating than Dani and Tim, but as this was a play that portrayed normality as boring (‘Listen to how quiet it is’), this did not detract but rather added to the overall impression of the piece. Peter Swallow as Lewis and Alexandra Koronkai-Kiss as Jan went about this by playing more for laughs than emotional conviction, which they did successfully.
In the end, it was the script itself that could have offered audiences a little more. While a sense of humour was certainly present, and whilst the play certainly posed interesting questions regarding sexual morality, what the play did seem to be missing was a sense of urgency and tension. The characters were well-crafted and played well, but the plot in which they interacted failed to offer much in the way of suspense. Although this may have been Prebble trying to encapsulate adolescent nonchalance, there were no moments that felt particularly critical or consequential. It was for this reason that, despite enjoying myself throughout, I left The Sugar Syndrome feeling that I had never shifted to the edge of my seat.
Nonetheless, this was an ambitious directorial choice for Swanson, who presented Prebble’s dark material in a way that was not stifling but truly considered and engaging.