★★★★★ Sugar Coat – VAULT Festival – Review
VAULT Festival is always a hotbed of exciting experiences, and our latest visit didn’t fail to live up to expectations…
An outstanding gig theatre experience – raw, emotional, and ultimately uplifting.
Writers Lilly Pollard and Joel Samuels have created a thing of punky beauty in new live music play Sugar Coat: part gig, part confessional, and fully exhilarating.
A female and non-binary production, Sugar Coat sees an authentic riot grrrl band – Dani Heron, Gracie Lai, Anya Pearson, Rachel Barnes, Sarah Workman – play spiky, infectious original songs in-between segments of a story which is in turns warm, hilarious, tragic and triumphant.
The story: a teenage girl discovers boys, snogging and sex but when things take an unexpected turn her life – at least, the non-academic side of it – spirals into despair.
Dani Heron is excellent in the lead, both of the story and the band who hold the stage throughout. Heron’s performance is the backbone of Sugar Coat, and her successful balancing of the roles of singer and actor is arguably key to the piece working at all. Nevertheless, this is an ensemble piece – the rest of the band, including co-Musical Director Pearson, more than hold their own, playing multiple parts (of multiple genders) in addition to their instruments. Workman lights up the stage playing teenage boy Dean and also on the drums, while Barnes shines as both a caring mother and an encouraging sex therapist.
It’s a measure of how effective the writing and performances are that the audience – whooping and hollering after the first few musical numbers – are silenced by the emotional depth of the storytelling. Suffice to say that things get (quite graphically) dark but – *spoiler alert* – some light emerges at the end of the tunnel.
What could be heavy-going subject matter – abortion, miscarriage, rape and psychological scarring all feature – is handled sensitively but without glossing over harsh realities. At the same time, the choice of musical styling and performance is absolutely appropriate – indeed, the music could easily stand alone as an album of rebel anthems and outsider empowerment.
Shows like Sugar Coat are rare: genuinely engaging, emotionally complex, challenging yet accessible and absolutely necessary.