Manchester, 1905. A body has gone missing, and the next day fingers are being pointed around a kitchen table. Everyone has a motive, and they have already committed the crime, so who has hidden the evidence?
Tinted Theatre start the show with maybe the most incredible preset I have ever seen. As the audience enter, the women are sat at a dark wood table, a gun in the centre. They are draped with a bright pink gauze fabric while beautifully eerie music plays. When the lights go down there is a movement piece of each woman taking turns to reach for the gun in the middle, its silver and catching the lights perfectly as it spins in the centre. This piece was all it took to draw me in, and said so much with small movements that would have taken paragraphs with words.
The backdrop of the piece talks about the suffragette movement in Manchester, the lesser explored story outside of Emmeline Pankhurst and the action in London. This is shown throughout with signs, the actors moving around the space and lifting them high in perfect unison. The piece sets the sense of time quickly, and allows for smooth transition into the conversation that starts after, without having to lay out reels of context. It was an interesting choice but weaved its way in to the story perfectly, allowing for interesting backstory for the characters of the piece. It encouraged later conversations around womens agency, and the impact of the movement for working class women, which weaved in seamlessly to the discussion of the crimes at hand.
The cast of characters are four women who have worked for Madame for varying lengths of time. It is never explicitly said what they do, but the audience don’t need the overt words to be said to understand. The play is confined to the kitchen of the accommodation they share, which was owned by Madame, the day after she is shot dead. The set perfectly solidifies the era, with dainty china tea cups that help give the piece its name, complemented with costumes that fit the piece and each character perfectly.
We are introduced to the characters through conversation around the missing body and the immediate tension is created perfectly by the three actors on stage. There is a Scottish woman scribbling in a notebook (played by Bobbi Fraser), the longest staying resident and want-to-be owner and change maker (played by Jenna Eddy), and a mysterious Irish woman who showed up just a year ago, reading through the newspaper (played by Belén Mc Menamin).
We learn about another character who is rarely seen in the piece, May, a young woman who had a close relationship with the Madame, she wears a wedding dress throughout but it is never explained why (played by Solveig Paulsen, who is also the writer of the piece). There is a sense of mystery around this character that is held until the end, which works well for the piece, but having been told the background of the other characters and why they are there, it feels as if May didn’t get as much love in the script. Whether this was because they kept her off stage for longer, for the later reveals of the show, or because they enjoyed the general aura of the character being a mystery, I’m not sure, but I wanted to know more.
Throughout the scenes are quick, and well acted, the dialogue jumps from actor to actor with ease. Moments of arguments, talking over each other, or picking lines up from each other feels natural and well rehearsed. The company has fantastic chemistry that translates well on stage. The performance that really stood out to me was Fraser’s portrayal of Dotty. Her reactions and emotions were naturalistic, and always well thought out, and there were small hints to the characters backstory and things revealed later in the script that she peppered through her performance well.
The play incorporates movement and music throughout, the movement pieces relating to the crime and suffragette movement. There were a few moments of singing led by Belén Mc Menamin whose voice is really wonderful. It felt slightly jarring in places amongst other more naturalistic scenes, I think it would benefit from a lighting change to make it stand alone or feel more like a dream scene. This speaks for movement too, the pieces worked well but could blend with the ones before and after so the conscious choice of changing lights would make the transitions blend between the scenes well. Overall, the lighting states and technical work were wonderful and could be used even more to compliment areas of the piece.
At the end there was a moment of pause as the audience started to clap a scene too soon. It felt a little confusing with a blackout and the cast leaving the stage, to then add what felt like an epilogue. This was necessary to the piece, but would have worked better with a different transition in to it, so we don’t stumble across this element of a false ending.
Sugar and Blood was wonderfully written by Solveig, and gave balance to each character, making them feel fully developed. The story flows perfectly and the concept is well realised within an hour for the Fringe stage.
If they are taking this script further I think it would benefit from being extended. I feel like there was more to play with, more chances for silence and tension to build as they did in the very beginning scene. Sugar and Blood would work well if given more room to breathe, and space to expand the story and characters, and I would be thrilled to see more.
Tinted Theatre focus on creating new feminist theatre through a different lens, and making theatre for everyone. They always bring something new to the stage, and I can’t wait to see what this company does in the future now that they have graduated.