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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Sugar Syndrome

No, Lewis, you win. I haven't touched a hair on her head. Or anywhere else. So you can take your adolescent hormones and disappear off and watch "Buffy". I'm tired.
--- Tim
The Sugar Syndrome
Andrew Woodall as Tim and Stephanie Leonidas as Dani
(Photo: Ivan Kyncl)
This first play The Sugar Syndrome comes from new playwright Lucy Prebble, a remarkable 22 year old, barely out of university, who won a newspaper competition for her writing. Taking three characters, who meet in an internet chat room Ms Prebble weaves her plot with originality and an excellent ear for dialogue. In addition the play tackles two subjects eschewed by modern drama, anorexia bulimia and paedophilia. Marianne Elliot, an associate director at the Royal Court, has concentrated on developing first rate performances in this convincing production.

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.

The Sugar Syndrome
Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Marianne Elliott

With: Stephanie Leonidas, Andrew Woodall, Kate Duchene and Will Ash.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with one interval .
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 16th November 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th October 2003 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1 (Tube Station: Sloane Square)
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