Play Review – Sugar Baby by Alan Harris

Sugar Baby
Alphabetti Theatre, 27th September 2022

Written by Alan Harris, Directed by Natasha Haws, performed by Ben Gettins (full credits below)

This play came with some warnings about strong language, violence and injury detail as well as reference to euthanasia and flashing lights and loud and high frequency sounds. It struck me as I sat watching that it might also be relevant to warn us that it is imbued with love, both in its writing and its performance and love’s quest to break free in a contemporary labyrinth. Though of course we never need a warning of love, we just go where it flows as with this story.

It’s a one person show, the narrator is Marc who embodies all the other characters (all played superbly by Ben Gettins with warmth, wit and occasional gentle audience interaction or recognition of the fourth wall). Marc is a twenty something small time drug dealer for pocket money (and because what else can he do it seems) in Cardiff. He lives with his dad who owes six thousand pounds to a local loan shark, Oggy. Marc sets the scene and then we have his visit to Oggy with a proposition, to take a six thousand pound loan himself with which he can pay Oggy back for his father. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go down well. So far, so plotted. But one of the delights of this show is its observation along the way – of small things in their lives and environment, often huge to our protagonist/s or the detail of their place that brings it alive and sustains them. We’ve already got to know Cardiff a bit (I’ve never been) and of his surroundings, like his dad who reads Ian Fleming in the club; something of Marc in how Oggy relates to him and the stories Oggy seems quite stuck in telling about him from their earliest days in this small world, stories to humiliate and place him, keep him down. It all seems so true, so British, so contemporarily British and whilst its flavour is distinctively Cardiff, it sings to so many other parts of our country where there is less opportunity.

So Marc, thwarted on loan front, is left standing a long time for his bus (despite a readout that assures it will be a few minutes), when he observes Lisa also visiting Oggy. And stands so long he’s there when she comes back out. He’s filled us in on how he and Lisa were at school together and their history of attraction and attraction denied, from his point of view of course. Lisa leaves Oggy’s and the plot takes off as Marc steps in at a vital moment to help Lisa. I should say in the midst of all the action how consistently funny and witty this play and production is, not taking itself too seriously whilst it knows itself well. Now reconnected Marc and Lisa start to talk, out spills Lisa’s story over a drink and what Oggy wants (not surprising). It sets them off on an odyssey of facing danger, death even and finding themselves. Along the way Marc also revisits issues of family conflict and learns more of the real substance of his parents and that of himself. A crisis appears and worsens and of course resolves and amidst it all, is it the stress or maybe he’s been smoking some of his homegrown plants, Marc finds himself a slightly annoying new aquatic friend in the park. A friend with a history of trying to escape these very streets who failed and yet is full of advice on doing so.

I might wonder a little at how the the plot plays out in the end, especially in relation to that theme of love. At the same time it is a story bounded by sitting within conventions, just as all the characters are by the narratives they are allowed in the society they sit in – their struggle with that another theme. And maybe that outcome is quite realistic and also a statement of love in a way, and maybe, maybe, what else could have happened, it is a play after all. I like that it’s left me thinking about it like that, it certainly stays with me in good ways.

But you don’t have to ask such questions, just go with it, it is so very charming and yet real (sometimes surreal) in its observation. A modern romance. Warm in its characterisations and very much so in their portrayal by our star who moves about the simple set with vigour embodying and congruent to the story and different voices. At the centre of the stage is a square block with two steps on each side. At times Marc (or whoever he’s being) can be on this pedestal or on a step or sitting when he’s not at one of the other corners of the stage. It was natural and effective story telling. The pedestal also has some surprises. And the production is also supported by projected pictures. As with the dialogue throughout these could be witty, their timing, as with the whole performance, is excellent. That use of different areas of the stage is also supported by coherent changes of lighting and sound for the different settings summoned up by the words and playing. It is all to the credit of he writer Alan Harris and director Natasha Haws and all the others involved in this production as listed below.

It’s a play that touches the heart and this production really came to life. Telling of lives starved of opportunities that find life still in the day to day and ready to find themselves when tested. It was a wholly enjoyable hour that stays warm in my heart and puts a smile on my face at its tone. This was an intimate venue, I was right next to the stage but I was wholly transported into its world and story. I heartily recommend it.

A Must See Show.

Sugar Daddy continues at the Alphabetti Theatre until 8th October. With a captioned performance Wednesday 28th September and Audio Described on Wednesday 5th October and Relaxed performances each Saturday matinee.


Written by Alan Harris
Directed by Natasha Haws
Performed by Ben Gettins
Stage Management by Kieren Wadforth
Sound Design by Matt Jamie
Set Design by Ali Pritchard
Lighting Design by Chris Foley and Kieren Wadforth
Projection mapping by Matt Jamie
Illustration by Gina Ruffin
Photography and Videography by Benjamin Michael Smith
Technical Coordination by Chris Foley
Marketing Coordination by Scott Jeffrey
Community Engagement Coordination by Audrey Cook
Production Support from Esther Fearn and Ali Pritchard

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