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The Sugar Syndrome by Lucy Prebble
Dir. Tamsin Swanson
***

With smart-phones, i-Pads and tablets, technology is at our fingertips all day, everyday and so Lucy Prebble’s The Sugar Syndrome has only grown in resonance since its debut in 2003. This play depicts a group of people involved though ‘Chatarama’, an online network. Dani (Coco Claxton), 17, a recovering anorexic teenage girl, enters the cyber universe from her broken home with mum Jan (Sandra Koronkai-Kiss), 45, and tries to fix those she encounters; sleeping with Lewis (Peter Swallow), a lacklustre virgin at 22, and befriending paedophile Tim (Alex Levine), 38. Our emotional responses are turned upside down as we feel excessive sympathy for a pervert and unjust animosity towards a misused lover. It is a play that confronts and undermines taboos in a striking and original way and the cast and directors really rose to this challenge.

An outstanding performance was given by Alex Levine, playing the most stigmatised part of the paedophile. His manipulation of the role was superb; in every gesture and delivery he encapsulated this posh, intelligent man and made him appear like normal man. I felt an incredible empathy with his character, his hopelessness, almost forgetting the reality of his perversions. There was a particularly touching scene in which he and Dani had returned from a night out and are laughing, chatting and dancing to old records. For a moment we forget their disparities, then they kiss and the spell his broke. Tim leaves her and she makes herself sick with salt water. The harmony never lasts long.

The dichotomy of teenage hormones was another challenging area and one which director, Tasmin Swanson, should be praised for. The staging of both Lewis and Dani conveyed their youthful confusions. Lewis’ sexual awareness was palpable when Dani was on stage as he constantly sought reasons to touch her. Similarly Dani’s unresponsiveness after they’ve had sex the first time disrupts his possessive endeavours.

However, despite this direction there was a slightly limp feeling to scenes between Claxton and Swallow and a total lack of sexual chemistry. The play opened with the young couple’s first sexual encounter, which without conviction contributed to a rather slow start. This was not the only instance of a lack of commitment, as it came out again in the argument between mother and daughter. The verbal fight lacked energy until Koronkai-Kiss’ rather pathetic slap, which somehow seemed to recall actual aggression to the scene and it then ended on a high. This was the trend throughout; any weaker moment was closely followed by stronger one, so these fumbles could be forgotten.

The overall production also made up for slower moments, with clean cut lighting and set reflecting a blank type- box on a chat-room site. The highlight, however, was the use of sound, with the familiar computer noises, such as the windows loading jingle, and the robotic voice-overs, used for chat rooms, voicemails and the internet. As this was occurring on stage, the technology infiltrated the external reality and undermined its convictions. This was demonstrated by the emotive final scene, in which Dani opens Tim’s laptop and we hear a boy being raped. The inhuman noises the computers have emitted previously are replaced by this one, heart-wrenching human cry.

The play symbolically ended with Dani destroying the laptop by pouring squash across the keyboard – simple humanity triumphs over technology. With such a striking close, some wonderful direction, thorough presentation and acting highlights, The Sugar Syndrome gave a sound performance, provocatively bringing out the conflicts of modern day technological and societal taboos.

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