THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER – Royal Exchange, Manchester

Patrick Baldwin

Genevieve Barr and Arthur Hughes star in THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER. Image: Patrick Baldwin

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER is an intimate portrait of loss, hurt and recovery

Following its premiere at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jack Thorne’s new play THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER heads to Royal Exchange this week as part of a national tour. 

Directed by Amit Sharma, THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER tells the story of Phil and Alice, a young couple trying to understand their relationship after grieving for a stillborn child. Tender, candid and harrowing, the play is a poignant and intimate portrait of loss, hurt and recovery.

Written by Jack Thorne, whose previous credits include LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and HOPE, THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER continues Thorne’s track record of dealing with intimate matters in a sensitive yet realistic manner. Every word in the fearless script is weighted for maximum emotional impact, resulting in a funny, poignant, arresting and utterly devastating piece that is both painful and rewarding.

Performed against an unmade vertical bed, which itself becomes a battleground for the unspoken, Phil and Alice tell of their blossoming love through a series of flashbacks, as stories of the stillbirth and the couple’s sexual history unfold in parallel.

In the wake of the death of their child, reigniting sexual chemistry might seem like the least of their priorities but Phil and Alice are desperate to heal and rediscover their sexual chemistry. Sex is a key feature of the play and the couple describe intimate details of their sex life to the audience, including a painful first attempt at intercourse following the miscarriage.

Communication, or lack thereof, is also at the heart of SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER. The duelling monologues in which the actors address the audience, instead of each other, cleverly demonstrates how their thoughts aren’t shared with each other. It’s this same lack of communication that almost breaks them apart, rather than the loss of their child.

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR by Jack Thorne. Arthur Hughes and Genevieve Barr.

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR by Jack Thorne. Arthur Hughes and Genevieve Barr. Image: Patrick Baldwin

Alongside Thorne’s shattering script, the story is driven forward by powerful performances from the lead actors Genevieve Barr and Arthur Hughes. Barr delivers a sensitive and thoughtful performance as Alice, her blunt and matter-of-fact attitude accentuating the gut-wrenching horror of the words. Both Barr and her character are deaf, although her disability has no direct relevance on the story.

The same can be said for Hughes, whose arm impairment, is secondary to the plot. Thorne cleverly folds Barr’s and Hughes’ disabilities into the piece, even though the script doesn’t necessarily demand it. In fact, both of the actors’ disabilities completely dissolve from view as the play develops and our relationship with them deepens.

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER is a complex emotional piece which is often upsetting and wrenching, making it at times, difficult to watch. One scene towards the end of the play is an example of this, as Alice tells the audience of how Phil is unable to look at her following the miscarriage and, shamefully, as an audience member, I find myself doing the same. That said, there are some sweet and funny moments in the script, and overall, the production is done with sensitivity and intelligence.

Honest, heart-wrenching and beautifully performed, THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER is a play about love, death and how a couple communicate in the wake of a tragedy. A poignant piece of writing by Thorne brought to life by Graeae Theatre Company.

4 out of 5 stars

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER runs at the Royal Exchange until 13 February 2016

The Solid Life of Sugar Water – National Tour spring 2016 from Graeae on Vimeo.