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Venue: Pleasance Dome
Relationships have been a popular topic at this year's Fringe, with Graeae Theatre Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth's co-production The Solid Life of Sugar Water focusing on a young couple's attempts to reconnect after a terrible loss. While making it difficult to watch at times, the play's brutal honesty leaves a lasting impression that's heightened by the comic undertones of earlier scenes about awkward sexual encounters and first dates.
Graeae Theatre Company stay true to their aim of making theatre more accessible and challenging preconceptions about disabled people. The play's two characters, Alice (Genevieve Barr) and Phil (Arthur Hughes), are both disabled but their disabilities are never presented as the most important thing about them. The Solid Life of Sugar Water isn't a play about a disabled couple - the difficulties that Alice and Phil experience could easily happen to any couple. The two characters are wonderfully self-deprecating. Alice's deafness is even used as the basis for a joke when she and Phil describe their first impressions of each other. Barr and Hughes' relaxed performances make Alice and Phil incredibly likeable characters.
The thoughtful staging contributes to The Solid Life of Sugar Water's unusual intimacy. A bed stands vertically at the back of the stage with the wall designed to look like the floor of Alice and Phil's bedroom. The strip of lighting that frames the bed is used to great effect, especially when it turns red during a particularly harrowing scene in the play's second half. The music used to signal the start of a new scene adds a welcome energy to the play.
If The Solid Life of Sugar Water has a fault, it's that the staging and the arrangement of the seating area don't always complement each other. Subtitles are projected around the bed throughout the show but you're unlikely to be able to see all of them unless you're sitting directly in front of the stage. Thankfully, Hughes and Barr make an effort to engage all sides of the audience, but it's still a shame not to be able to experience what Graeae Theatre Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth are offering in its entirety just because of where you're sitting.
However, the awkward positioning of some of the seats is not enough to detract from the play's brilliance. Hughes and Barr's engaging performances combined with Jack Thorne's sharply written script make The Solid Life of Sugar Water one of the best shows of this year's Fringe.