The Solid Life of Sugar Water (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: October 20, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Writer: Jack Thorne

Director: Indiana Lown-Collins


Phil hates the word “perfect”, largely because he knows that it could never be applied to him. It is Phil’s relationship with Alice, a deaf girl, that lies at the heart of The Solid Life of Sugar Water, Jack Thorne’s one-act play which illustrates amply that those of us who could never aspire to becoming contestants on Love Island can have lives as full as anyone else.

The play, a two-hander, premiered at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, before the writer’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning triumph with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This beautifully judged revival has important thing to say in support of social inclusivity and it says them without shying away from harsher truths, while never forgetting that its primary purpose is to entertain.  

Phil, a skinny young man who is losing weight, is given a cocky manner to mask his low self-esteem by disabled actor Adam Fenton; Alice has down-two-earth warmth, as played by Katie Erich, who is herself deaf. Together they make a terrific team, switching effortlessly between comedy and tragedy, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measures.

The couple’s story is told in non-linear form, jumping backwards and forwards in time, scenes of high comedy intercutting with those of high drama. The dialogue fizzes and it pulls no punches, especially when discussing, with unusual frankness, the explicit anatomical details of the pair’s physical relationship. This provokes many laughs as the play warms up, but Thorne pays just as much attention to the emotional connection as the two young lovers clear the obstacles of everyday living and face up to sterner challenges.

Director Indiana Lown-Collins’ in-the-round production is meticulous in ensuring that it is performed evenly to all sides and all corners of the theatre. The rapid movement of the actors around the stage which this necessitates injects added energy into the entire staging. Designer Ica Niemz places a king-sized bed, draped in white linen in a central position and all of the action takes place on or around it. The play’s script is projected onto the theatre’s upper level, as the lines are delivered, a device with is particularly useful when a short scene is performed using only sign language.

The production grows in confidence as the play takes a tighter hold, reaching a climax when scenes of ecstasy and agony are performed simultaneously, as if two sides of the same coin. Thorne’s play is small and, if not exactly perfectly formed, then pretty close to it.

Performance date: 19 October 2022

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