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Review of Sugarcoat at Southwark Playhouse Borough - Bold, progressive, but lacks depth

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Rated 🍯🍯

Production photo of Sugarcoat at Southwark Playhouse Borough. Photo credit: Ali Wright
Production photo of Sugarcoat at Southwark Playhouse Borough. Photo credit: Ali Wright

Sugarcoat is an amusing musical, but the bee was left wanting when it came to specifics

The show tries to portray new and unconventional relationship arrangements, and challenge the norms of monogamy and heterosexuality — a brave move in today's society, what with the rise of far right politics in many of the liberal strongholds in the world.

Further, the songs were catchy and well-written. The vocalist who played the main character carried the show with potent charisma and talent. The story, however, left much to be desired.

[Spoiler warning]

The three-way relationship at the heart of Sugarcoat was rather superficial and unrealistic in its depiction of polyamory

The bee refuses to believe that everything was that easy and fun for the characters, without conflict or jealousy of any measure. Perhaps complications and consequences would rear their ugly heads as the relationship(s?) matured, in which case the bee fails to understand why we were only shown the honeymoon phase of this arrangement. The bee would have liked to see what happens after the euphoria settles in.

"We'll figure it all out" doesn't always cut it

The play ends with a shocking revelation. The trouple (struggling with auto-correct here to get this word into the essay!) is now expecting a baby. This baby is going to have three parents. The bee was okay with the wild experimentation up until this point, but thought the idea of bringing a baby into this strange new arrangement was a little much. Now, your faithful bee is as progressive as they get, but the idea of three confused adults parenting a baby seemed rather irresponsible and selfish.

It's one thing to push the limits of what relationships are and are not, but it's another thing to subject a baby to a novel arrangement that hasn't been tried and tested before - an arrangement that is as new to the parents as it is to the baby and the rest of society. How would the child cope with having three parents? How would they explain their family to others? How would they deal with the potential stigma and discrimination? The bee would have scored the show better if it addressed these questions at all, instead of just presenting the trio’s pregnancy as a happy ending. "We'll figure it all out," they say.

The tragedy in Sugarcoat is a lost opportunity

At the heart of this musical is a tragedy that befalls the main character, a teenage pregnancy followed by a miscarriage. (This was long before the adventures I described above.) Tragic, no doubt, but the portrayal felt like a series of clichés and stereotypes about how women feel after losing a baby. She felt guilty, she felt empty, she felt angry, she felt depressed…but we have seen it all before.

Tragedy strikes us all in life. But it strikes every one of us differently. As Tolstoy puts it in Anna Karenina’s opening line, “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The show could benefit from showing us the main character’s own, idiosyncratic experience with tragedy.

But, to be fair, the did like this one line she said. She said she didn't know if the creature that was growing inside her counted as a human life yet or not; but pro-life, pro-choice and everything in between aside, she said she felt connected to that thing. I thought that was beautiful. It was the only moment in the show that touched me.

In conclusion, Sugarcoat is a musical with great music, talented actors and great energy, but is ultimately let down by a weak story. It tries to be bold and progressive, but does not go very far in exploring the conflicts and contradictions inherent in its new contrarian ideas.

Two stars.

Watched April 2023 at the Southwark Playhouse Borough, London

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