Review: Sugar Coat, VAULT Festival

What do you get when you take a musical and swap out jazz hands for head-banging and solo showstoppers for a band of punk rock performers? You get Sugar Coat, a gig theatre show recounting the honest, intimate details of a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. 

“Love, loss and lubrication”- I mean, if you had to sum up this show in three words, this synopsis from the production’s flyer is pretty on the money. This show touches on a lot of things and naturally some of what it covers is very touching indeed, but for a show which invites people to relate, at times I am left feeling disconnected. Of course, that connection will vary person to person, but I do believe the hour-long show doesn’t give us enough time to attach ourselves to our narrator, with just enough time for the story to be recounted with few detours to truly reflect. 

The script written by Joel Samuels and Lilly Pollard is witty and comical, with enough one liners to gain vocal audience reactions throughout the show. However, the levels created by more tender moments often feel undermined when we quickly jump back into another punk tune. The script is only an hour long, so long drawn out moments are unrealistic; nonetheless, I wish some moments were elongated for a longer interlude. 

The band is made up of Rachel Barnes, Dani Heron, Gracie Lai, Anya Pearson and Sarah Workman. The group perform with a riotous energy and a true sense of comradeship. They all showcase a real musical talent, but unfortunately I can rarely hear Heron’s vocals. I can make out enough well executed high notes to praise her singing, but she is often drowned out by the rest of the instrumental. For a show which heavily relies on its songs to assist the storytelling, being able to hear said tracks is pretty essential. 

Every show has an additional, often unseen member of the band- the tech team. For this show, a lack of any additional scenery or props beyond the necessary guitar stands and amps, leaves me hoping that the tech can offer that additional theatrical dimension. Ariane Nixon’s lighting design switches between spotlighted soliloquies and colour washed party scenes; it all fits well, but for a script which is anything but subtle, I wish the tech could strike more of a chord. 

Punk is meant to be rebellious, it is not made to be neat and tidy. However, for this show to be performed completely free from theatrical restriction, there needed to be a heightened attention to detail in its creation; the sturdier the foundations, the more you can jump and stomp all over them.

Sugar Coat is playing the Vaults until March 15. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.