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A CurtainUp London Review
The Sugar Syndrome
Dani (Stephanie Leonidas) is seventeen, back home after a stay in a clinic treating eating disorders. Her newspaper editor father is absent from the family home, staying with his mistress, while her mother (Kate Duchene) is adjusting to finding a job and coping alone. Dani goes to an internet chatroom where all the people live locally. She meets Lewis (Will Ash) a lonely boy who doesn't have a girl friend and fulfils his sexual fantasies in person. Dani also meets, in a playground, Tim (Andrew Woodall), a man in his thirties, who thinks she is an eleven year old boy. Tim has been in prison, maybe for sex offenes. Dani and Tim befriend each other finding a common humanity in their flawed existence but Lewis is jealous.
The play lures its audience into looking sympathetically at the predicament of Tim, attracted to children, knowing it is wrong and trying to resist. The danger of people you meet on the internet takes a less obvious twist when Lewis, who considers himself to be normal, threatens to expose Tim as a sex offender to his neighbours. When Tim gives his laptop to Dani to hide his pictures of child pornography in case of a call from the police, she recoils as she plays a video on the computer and we the audience hear a frightened child crying. This reminds everyone of us of the hurt that is inflicted on children by people like Tim, customers for a pervasively evil child pornography industry.
Dani is an attractive, bright but disturbed teenager. Stephanie Leonidas gives a performance way beyond her years as the brittle child of a dysfunctional marriage. Andrew Woodall's sad Tim has loads of introspection, despair, irony and much of the wry humour as he talks to Dani about his life. Will Ash as Lewis is a nerd, narrow minded and unsympathetic as he is meant to be.
The sliding set is rather creaky and I do wish that the budget had allowed the internet chat room scenes to be typed on a screen (as they were in the production of Patrick Marber's Closer) rather than spoken by the actors, which destroys the slow speed of the action, the imagination and the fantasy that leaps out from the written page. I liked the scenes in the park where Tim and Dani sit on children's swings and talk.
This is an outstanding first play which looks at life today and the kind of psychological problems and dysfunctions which preoccupy us. Dani touches on how the media feeds peverse behaviours. "How everyone tells you to get well but they're working to keep you ill". She is talking about images in magazines of waif thin models, about articles on dieting but for Tim too, advertising uses young children in provocative ways. The Sugar Syndrome is a reference to war time rationing, drawn by Dani's mother, when people spent their coupons on a quick sugar fix rather than on meat and eggs which were better for them. Very interesting.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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