• Flora Gosling

Review: Sugar Baby (Paradise in The Vault)

Updated: Jun 10

THIS IS A SHOW ABOUT HOW EVIL SUGAR IS! OH, YOU DIDN’T KNOW? WELL, SUGAR IS EVIL. EVIL EVIL EVIL, AND THE LOUDER YOU SAY IT, THE TRUER IT IS. THOUGH I OFTEN FIND MYSELF MORE ATTRACTED TO CHOCOLATE THAN KALE, THEATRE THAT EXPOSES STRANGE AND HORRIFYING ASPECTS OF THE AUDIENCE’S OWN LIVES ARE OFTEN DELICIOUSLY EXTRAVAGANT AND UNSETTLING. DONE WELL, HAVE THE POWER TO CONVINCE, PROVIDED THEY CAN ATTRACT A WILLING AUDIENCE. ANNE PENKETH’S ONE-WOMAN SHOW, STARRING HOLLY-ROSE CLEGG, SOUNDED PROMISINGLY AGGRESSIVE AND THOUGHT PROVOKING, TAKING A JAB AT THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND TELLING A STORY OF ADDICTION AND A MOTHER-DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP AT THE SAME TIME.

AND MY GOD, YOU CAN’T MISS HER. SWAGGERING IN LIKE A COOL KID ENTERING DETENTION, SHE PRACTICALLY SPITS ATTITUDE, GIVING THE IMPRESSION SHE COULD LOVE YOU OR HATE YOU AND NOTHING IN BETWEEN, AND THAT HER JUDGMENT WOULD BE IMMEDIATE AND FINAL. ON A DEEPER LEVEL SHE PORTRAYED HER CHARACTER MIMI’S ISOLATION AND ALIENATION AS A VEGAN CORPORATION-HATING ACTIVIST PERFECTLY, A SIDE WE DO NOT OFTEN SEE IN THE BARRAGE OF MEDIA SHOWING ONLY THE DEFIANCE AND ANGER OF SUCH GROUPS. I AM CURIOUS TO SEE HER PERFORM IN OTHER ROLES, AS HER SWIFT, MASCULINE MOVEMENT REMINDED ME OF SILVIA CALDERONI OF MOTUS, THOUGH HER DEMONSTRATION OF HER SKILL AS A PERFORMER WAS SOMEWHAT WASTED ON THE MINUSCULE AUDIENCE OF THE PERFORMANCE I ATTENDED.

SHE RAISED THE BAR HIGH FOR HOW PENKETH'S STORY WOULD HOLD UP. IT FOLLOWS MIMI AS SHE DEALS WITH HER MOTHER (WHO WORKS FOR THE FICTIONAL MULTI-NATIONAL FOOD GIANT DELIGHT), AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY, AND AN UNHEALTHY ADDICTION TO SWEETS. EARLY ON, MIMI SHOWS OFF HER TATTOOS, INCLUDING ONE OF A DOLPHIN THAT DANCES ON HER BACK…..EXCEPT THERE ISN’T ONE. NOT EVEN A TEMPORARY ONE. IT WASN’T AN ESPECIALLY FUNNY LINE, BUT IT COULD HAVE SHOWN OF MIMI’S EXUBERANT CHARACTER, UNTIL WE SAW THAT THERE WAS NO SUCH TATTOO TO BEHOLD ONE COULDN’T HELP BUT WONDER WHAT THE POINT WAS. SIMILARLY, MIMI’S MAJOR CHARACTER ARCH IS LOSING HER HIGH STANDARDS OF ETHICS AND SELF-CONTROL TO ADDICTION, AND GETTING EXTREMELY FAT IN THE PROCESS….EXCEPT SHE DOESN’T. BUDGETS ARE TIGHT AT THE FRINGE, BUT IN ORDER TO HAVE A DEGREE OF DISGUST AND HEARTBREAK AT OUR PROTAGONISTS FALL FROM GRACE I WANT A LITTLE MORE PROOF OF THIS WEIGHT GAIN THAN A LITTLE ROLLING AROUND ON THE FLOOR AND A COUPLE OF OVERLY OBVIOUS LINES EXPLAINING THE SITUATION.

THE CHARACTERS ALL SEEM TO HAVE DIFFERENT PURPOSES – THE MOTHER IS THERE TO PROVIDE CONTRAST TO MIMI, BARNEY (THE BABY’S FATHER) IS THERE TO REPRESENT THE PATRIARCHY, THE BABY IS THERE TO REPRESENT RESPONSIBILITY, EVEN TO ONESELF – BUT AMONGST THE VARIOUS PLOT POINTS IT IS DIFFICULT TO DECIPHER WHAT THE PURPOSE OF THE SHOW IS. THERE ARE SOME COMEDIC MOMENTS (FEW OF WHICH GAIN THE RESPONSE THEY ARE HOPING FOR), BUT IT IS ALSO CLEARLY POLITICAL IN ITS ANTI-CORPORATION AGENDA AND ITS DISGUST FOR WESTERN INDULGENCE, BUT NEVER PROVIDES ANY REASON FOR THE AUDIENCE TO FEEL THE SAME WAY. THE CHOCOLATES MIMI BECOMES ADDICTED TO, GUILTY SECRETS, HAVE SOME KIND OF SHADY CHEMICAL THAT SHE CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF, SO THE MESSAGE ENDS UP BEING THAT THE AUDIENCE OUGHT NOT TO EAT THAT PARTICULAR (FICTIONAL) BRAND OF CONFECTIONARY, BECAUSE THERE IS EXACTLY NOTHING CONNECTING THAT PRODUCT TO THE WIDER WORLD. NO STATISTICS, NO REFERENCES, NOT EVEN A TONE OF FEAR FOR THE MONOPOLISING CORPORATIONS THAT CONTROL OUR FOOD SUPPLY SINCE IT IS MADE QUITE CLEAR TO US THAT THIS PARTICULAR CHOCOLATE IS EXCEPTIONAL IN HOW ADDICTIVE IT IS. SO….WHAT WAS THE POINT AGAIN?

THEN, PERHAPS, “SUGAR BABY” IS A CHARACTER STUDY. MIMI HAS ELEMENTS OF “IPHEGINIA IN SPOLTT”’S EFFIE, BUT SEEMINGLY MORE IRRATIONAL AND UNPREDICTABLE, CONSTANTLY SEEKING CONFLICT IN HER HOME AND ON THE STREETS, SHOUTING ANGRILY AT EVERYONE SHE SEES IN A HIGH-PITCHED COCKNEY ACCENT, AND PRETENDING TO THROW UP OVER THE (NEAR EMPTY) FRONT ROW. WHILE HER ISOLATION DOES ADD DEPTH TO HER CHARACTER, IT DOESN’T COMPENSATE FOR THE DEMENTING, WHINING, HEAD-ACHE INDUCING CHARACTER THAT WE HAVE SHOUTING AT US FOR AN HOUR. EFFIE, A CLEAR INSPIRATION, DEMONSTRATED HOW HER UPBRINGING HAS MOULDED HER AND THAT BEHIND HER VENEER OF CONFIDENCE AND STREET KNOWLEDGE HID A LOVELESS AND LONELY WOMAN WITH BEAUTY AND GOOD INTENTIONS. HERE, HER CHARACTER IS BUILT AROUND THE IDEA OF HER WANTING TO BREAK AWAY FROM HER PRIVILEGED UPBRINGING, WHICH WAS DIFFICULT TO BUY, AND THAT AS AN ANGRY VEGAN FEMINIST SHE WOULD SLEEP WITH A MISOGYNIST HEAD OF A FOOD CONGLOMERATE, WHICH WAS DIFFICULT TO BUY, AND THAT SHE WOULD LATER (SPOILERS) HAVE NO MORAL QUANDRIES ABOUT JOINING SAID COMPANY AFTER ABOUT 8 MONTHS, WHICH IS HARD TO BUY. WHENEVER MIMI WASN’T ANNOYING, SHE WAS CONTRADICTING HER OWN CHARACTER. FOR A SHOW WITH SUCH A FASCINATINGLY CONTENTIOUS THEME, IT WAS DISAPPOINTING TO SEE SUCH A WONDERFUL ACTRESS PUT TO WASTE ON AN SCATTERED STORY, AN ANNOYING CHARACTER, AND AN UNFOCUSED MESSAGE, AND PROVED THAT SHEER AGGRESSION AND PASSION CANNOT KEEP A PLAY AFLOAT. TWO STARS

Featured Posts

Recent POSTS

 Search by TAGS