The Sugar Syndrome Reveals Bitter Aftertaste Of Cybersex
Lucy Prebble's 2003 play The Sugar Syndrome is an impressively bold debut, if not as successful as her later, larger-scale works Enron and A Very Expensive Poison. It tackles disturbing subjects such as paedophilia, eating disorder and hardcore pornography frankly, within the context of dodgy online chatrooms where dark fantasies run riot.
The 17-year-old Dani escapes from her unhappy family life and battles with bulimia by plugging into the internet and connecting with strangers who — like her — may not be who they pretend to be. Through this she hooks up with the immature, porn-addicted 22-year-old Lewis, whose mother still does his washing. By initially posing as an 11-year-old boy Dani also meets ex-classics teacher Tim, an older man who has spent time in prison for child abuse, and they form an unlikely friendship.
Prebble shows how this odd couple — both misfits who feel intense self-loathing — help each other with their respective illnesses as they try to move on from their vicious cycles of behaviour. 'The sugar syndrome' refers to the characters' search for an instant buzz, one that all too often leaves a bitter aftertaste.
The play is set in the pre-smartphone early noughties era: one of dial-up internet culture, CDs and physical copies of NME. Back then the cybersphere was only just opening up new worlds with endless opportunities and dangers. Oscar Toeman's slick, fast-moving production features coloured lighting effects and electronic sounds when characters go online.
Jessica Rhodes makes an assured professional stage debut as the supercharged Dani, conveying both her reckless curiosity and her emotional vulnerability. John Hollingworth hints at the lonely Tim's struggles with his deviant compulsions, while Ali Barouti is the jealously insecure Lewis. And Alexandra Gilbreath plays Dani's concerned mother Jan left behind by her husband and the world of IT.
The Sugar Syndrome, Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, TW9 2SA, £25-£32. Until 22 February
Last Updated 30 January 2020