The Sugar House ★★★★ Finborough Theatre | Oct 27 - Nov 20, 2021

The Sugar House is a saga chronicling three generations of an Australian family while focussing on its women. The story has parallels both to the history of Australia, from the early transportation of convicts to present development into a first-world society, and to the dirty, labour intensive process of sugar refining. Author, Alana Valentine, has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the language of the characters is vivid and engaging. For us, there were some issues with the exposition which on occasion seemed unclear and at other times was rather hammered home. The work is also heavy with issues: how does the past and "bad blood" colour one's future; how can one be socially mobile without losing one's true self and a legitimate sense of outrage; how does the political and justice system fairly serve the interests of all citizens. The story really belongs to the matriarch, June Macreadie, who is well-drawn and is beautifully interpreted by Janine Ulfane. Her performance radiates strength and resilience. However, while her character is the centre of the work, the other performances are all equally powerful. Patrick Toomey does an excellent job of understatement as June's husband and in other small roles. Fiona Skinner gets it just right as the daughter who fails to meet her mother's expectations, while her feckless brother, well played by Adam Fitzgerald, is indulged because of his gender. However, he does come right in the end when taken in hand by the right woman nicely played by Lea Dube. Jessica Zerlina Leafe as the hope of the clan does a superb job of taking her character from curious youngster to student rebel. Unlike so many actors we've seen lately, she actually pulls off the difficult feat of creating a believable child persona, and she also sensitively captures the angst of being the vehicle of her family's aspirations. The minimalist set puts all the focus on the actors, and they create a believable and engaging world which offers fascinating insight into Australian society while also tackling some universal themes.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Pamela Raith.

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