10/02/16 - The Solid Life of Sugar Water at the Royal Exchange

I've previously mentioned how overlooked the studio space in the Royal Exchange is, which is why I particularly wanted to highlight the brilliance of The Solid Life of Sugar Water.  From Jack Thorne, writer of Skins, Shameless and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, comes the story of a young couple struggling to reconnect under a set of tragic circumstances.

Photo credit: Patrick Baldwin

From the moment you enter the space and take your seat, the set design is the first thing to grab your attention, with our characters Phil (Arthur Hughes) and Alice (Genevieve Barr) tossing and turning in an upright bed, one which the audience sees as if from an aerial view.  It's reminiscent of Tracy Emin and certainly wouldn't look out of place in a modern art gallery (a reference that even the characters note later in the play).  As the action unravels, lighting and ambient sound amalgamate successfully with the innovative set to create well-paced transitions between non-linear scenes and key moments.  Phil and Alice take us on a patchwork journey through the course of their relationship, often addressing the audience to deconstruct the highlights of their time together.  This leads to both humourous moments, such as misinterpretations of each other's sexual desires, but also moving scenes in which they note how much they've drifted apart.  The script doesn't shy away from the more graphic aspects of the couple's sexual relationship, which is further highlighted by the choice to creatively project subtitles around the set.  This allows the play to cater for a wider audience but perhaps one of the byproducts is that no sentence can go unnoticed.  Another impressive feature of the play is its poignant representation of disability; one that is acknowledged in the piece but is in no way laboured.

Both actors gave strong performances, balancing the more serious subject matter of the play with carefully placed moments of levity.  Hughes creates a very realistic portrayal of a happy-go-lucky twenty-something lad (think Simon from the Inbetweeners) who you can't help but root for.  I was particularly impressed by his ability to connect with the audience through consistent eye contact and a very natural delivery of his more conversational lines.  Barr, who arguably has the meatier role of the two, carries the more emotionally charged moments with intimacy and immediacy.  During the more upsetting scenes of the play, she gives a tactful performance with respect and aplomb.  Together, they do an excellent job of highlighting the importance of communication within relationships and how easily it can be neglected, abused and misinterpreted.  

If you're able to get yourself to the Royal Exchange to see this by Saturday 13th February 2016, you'd be a fool to miss it.  Alternatively, the information for its short national tour can be found in the above video and also here.  

Let me know if you got a chance to see this play at any point in its tour; feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!


  1. That looks amazing - it reminds me a bit of The Paper Birds and Frantic Assembly - I might try and see it at the National.


    1. You absolutely should, it's one of the most interesting pieces of theatre I've seen for a while! And if you get chance to, you'll have to let me know what you thought of it :)