The Solid Life of Sugar Water review – Jack Thorne’s superb drama of love and loss

Orange Tree theatre, London
Brilliantly acted, designed and directed, Thorne’s tender but brutally powerful portrait of a couple gets an overdue revival

After this play premiered in 2015, Jack Thorne stipulated that the character of Alice continue to be played by a deaf actor. In typically gentle yet devastating fashion, the playwright explains in the programme that while plenty of professional productions then followed in America, the play hasn’t been performed since in the UK. What a wasted opportunity. This is a delicate yet brutally powerful play about love and loss and all the ways we try, and often fail, to communicate with each other. The two actors and director are all disabled – and all brilliant.

JMK-award winner Indiana Lown-Collins has wisely kept her production as low-key as possible. The action revolves around a young couple in bed. In the premiere, the bed was raised in an upright position. Here, it has been grounded and any sense of staginess or distance utterly eradicated. Thanks to some clever work with mirrors and lights from designers Ica Niemz and Jonathan Chan, in the moments of despair a gulf opens up beneath the bed: a glowing red hole seems to reach down to impossible depths. But this sort of trick is used sparingly and, most of the time, we’re just watching a beautifully fleshed-out couple – warm, easy and utterly charming – telling us their story.

Adam Fenton is ridiculously likable as Phil, delivering his perfectly timed quips with a wry grin to the audience. Katie Erich carries the emotional burden of the show. She glows with love for her husband but there are also flickers of anger and pain, hints of the deep sorrow that lies in wait.

The dialogue is projected on to caption screens that wrap around the stage. Interestingly, the script often feels very different when it is written down rather than spoken out loud (“I love you” can feel quite sad, flashing up in isolation). There’s a stunning moment when the captions stop running and Alice describes her pain using sign language. Mothers and disabled people – so often overlooked – are here given the time and space to express themselves.


Miriam Gillinson

The GuardianTramp

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