Review: The Solid Life of Sugar Water

As I walked into the Birmingham Repertory theatre space, I was struck by the highly contemporary, abstract, and frankly – relatable setting.

Up against the wall was a bedroom scene; two actors were stood up, asleep in the bed. They were surrounded by clothes, a pair of converses, an over-flowing laundry basket and phone chargers. Almost at once, you could see that the set portrayed a typical twenty-something’s room; to me, I saw my own bedroom. I really appreciated the attention to detail; from the lip balm on the bedside table to the lighting streaming through the door and the blinds. It wasn’t like your regular ‘bedsit’ setting. Instead we were looking at it from a birds-eye view, peering into something real; something intriguingly authentic.

This set the scene perfectly for what was to come; Jack Thorne’s incredibly intelligent and raw script throws us into a sexual encounter between our protagonists, Alice and Phil. The audience smile and chuckle in an almost understanding way as the couple speak their inner thoughts about this rather ritualistic activity:

PHIL: I trace her – graze her – inner thigh with just the edge of my – edge of my fingers.

ALICE: He always fucks around a bit.

Immediately, Phil and Alice became relatable. Their honest dialogue and their personalities shone within moments. What made their performance even more real was that they were both actors with disabilities. The theatre company, Graeae aims to create more opportunities for disabled artists; integrating sign language, audio description and captioning into theatre. Alice was played by Genevieve Barr, a deaf actress, and Phil was played by Arthur Hughes, an actor with a physical disability.

We follow them as they jump backwards and forwards through their relationship; from an awkward, yet hilarious first meeting in a post office, to their first sexual encounter together. We become emotionally invested in their relationship. Yet, hints are dropped throughout towards something very painful that they later share together.

The Times
Genevieve Barr as Alice and Arthur Hughes as Phil. Sourced from The Times Online.

We discover that Alice is pregnant, but the baby has not survived. They then have to go through the heart-breaking realisation that Alice will have to go through labour anyway. The ‘labour’ scene is possibly one of the most grotesquely poetic moments in the whole piece; both actors lie on the bed together, but are completely separate in their headspaces. Alice is in the middle of labour, while Phil is recalling a graphic sex scene between them. The clash of these two situations is uncomfortable to watch, yet extremely compelling; you have no idea what to feel. You see the transition from extreme pleasure to extreme pain before your eyes. This moment was exceptionally directed by Amit Sharma; it must have been a very challenging scene to pull off, but it was done just right.

Ultimately though, you can see and feel this undertone of love between them. It’s not perfect or idealised because true love never is, and that’s what I appreciated most about this play. To me, this play encapsulated everything I feel about modern relationships; it was truthful, raw, funny and painful.

Hull Truck
Barr and Hughes. Sourced from

The writing alone has that spoken-word feel about it; it truly is a shockingly beautiful piece. I liked it so much I bought the play script on my way out! I highly recommend going to see it if you can – it was well worth my trip from Bristol on the Megabus!


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