Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing playwright, Alana Valentine'sThe Sugar House performed at the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills. At first glance, this performance space looks reminiscent of an empty industrial warehouse with its large windows and columns but is transformed to the high loft penthouses of Pyrmont in 2007.
The designer Michael Hankin keeps the space simple with a table, pendant lights, chairs and beds being the only props which readily transforms each scene. Set in the Sydney's working class of Pyrmont, the play's title comes from the iconic Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) headquarters which grew into an industrial giant back in the day. Valentine's play is about the life revolving around three generations of Macreadie women. June, the matriarch (Kris McQuade), her daughter, Margo (Sacha Horler) and her granddaughter, Narelle (Sheridan Harbridge).
At the play's start, Narelle Macreadie is being shown around the apartment by a real estate agent, searching for a trace of her roots amongst the high-rises that have developed since her childhood days of living in the sweetest neighbourhood. Her memories recall her larger than life grandmother, June Macreadie, who held everything together.
Even though she was highly critical of her mother, Margo, this caused no end of seething resentment throughout their relationship. As with mother and daughter relationships, Narelle avoids her mum but under her Grandma's no-nonsense tough love approach, she matures from a wide-eyed eight-year-old in the 1960's to an angry activist turned lawyer.
Act One sees the world through a curious young girl Narelle under the care of her Grandma June whilst her mum, Margo, is off trying to save her marriage. We're introduced to Grandma's June hiding her family history of criminal relatives, but the past catches up with her troublemaking son Ollie Macreadie (Josh McConville), who serves time for receiving stolen goods with his girlfriend Jenny, (Nikki Shiels) who sticks by him.
Ollie's situation highlights the injustices and practices of corrupt local police, which inspire Grandma June and Narelle to a long-running crusade fighting against the death sentence. Sid Macreadie (Lex Marinos) is a calming force as the Grandfather working at the CSR and plays a range of roles from a police officer, a politician to a doctor with a quiet strength.
Act two brings Margo to her own, after a cancer diagnosis, her aggressive and unforgiving behaviour towards her mother, Grandma June, comes to a head. It's a relationship that encounters a rollercoaster of emotions, "Don't play games…not now," where Margo reveals Grandma's worst fear, what scares her the most, "your granddaughter's newfound middle-class will just be a thin topsoil over her ugly, ignorant, bad-blood past".
Each actor and actress are worth noting. Director Sarah Goodes has put together a show with smooth scene changes and cohesiveness that highlights the rawness of corruption and destruction of society.
Valentine's play is current to many Sydneysiders experiencing, a city twisted by construction with no sense of belonging. With all this change, Valentine points to the greedy developers, the politicians and lack of direction that have destroyed a city that was built by the workers.
In the worlds of June and Margo making amends, "In my grumpy, crabby bitch of a way I love you." From one daughter with a critical mother, it's a fitting way to enter the weekend for Mother's Day.
So I encourage you all to see this production, support these fine actors and escape to Pyrmont, an area steeped in history, and follow the misadventures of the McCreadie family. Don't forget to get your tickets now.