Sarah Goodes talks about bringing The Sugar House to the stage…
When I first read Alana’s play I was struck by the family drama at the heart of it: the often tragic triangle of tension that lies within families – two people who don’t know how to love each other and one person stuck in the middle.
However at the same time, it’s a play about Sydney – Australia’s biggest and fastest changing city. This beautiful play examines Sydney’s past through the Macreadie Family, exploring the city’s criminal history and the idea of inherited shame. It skates between the personal and political in a way I haven’t experienced in a new work for a while. I wanted to tell this story with a focus on sunlight and actors in a nearly empty space. The main design springboard was the photography of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton and their shared fascination with Sydney’s dazzling light and deep shadows. I knew lighting designer Damien Cooper would have a field day creating these moods in this space he knows so well. So too for designer Michael Hankin whose familiarity with and knowledge of the Belvoir building enabled him to conceive a design that celebrates the factory origins of the theatre while allowing the magic realism of a memory play to emerge. Costume designer Emma Vine has meticulously researched the era and unearthed gems and costumes from magical places. Composer Steve Francis and I talked a lot about the kind of music we needed to evoke the famous dancing Sydney light. He has written beautiful pieces to Alana’s lyrics, and Michael Toisuta’s soundscapes weave it all together.
Of course the core of this work is the writing and the actors who bring it to life. They are a rare and insanely talented group of performers who have been a joy to work with.
I spent a lot of time looking at the Belvoir anniversary book and loved actor and writer Rita Kaljenais’ essay about the incredible grace and bravery actors bring with them on to stage, night after night:
“Theatre should always be about connection and revelation. An actor’s job is to connect with the audience, with other actors, with a greater truth. When I sit in a dark theatre and someone on stage reveals the truth of their heart to me and I feel my own beat in response, I feel grace. When I stand on stage connecting with an audience whose presence makes a story bigger than me, it’s there.”
Something in Alana’s play feels bigger than us all – it amplifies the complexities of families’ inheritance, shame, love, and living in a city as big, beautiful and, at times, ruthless as Sydney.
We hope you enjoy being with it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to life.