The Sugar House

by Alana Valentine

27 October - 20 November 2021

"You know the worst thing about pretending to be all polished and posh, people start to believe that's all you've ever been. They tear everything down in this city, tear it down, gussy it up. We paid for this city like everyone else, so why are we never listened to? Why are our memories and our sense of belonging so worthless in this city?"

The European premiere

★★★★★ Five Stars, London Theatre Reviews
★★★★★ Five Stars, West End Best Friend
★★★★ Four Stars, London Pub Theatres
★★★★ Four Stars, Morning Star
★★★★ Four Stars, LondonTheatre1
★★★★ Four Stars, North West End
★★★★ Four Stars, Time and Leisure
★★★★ Four Stars, The Spy in The Stalls
★★★★ Four Stars, Everything Theatre
★★★★ Four Stars, London Living Large
★★★★ Four Stars, Paul in London

For the safety of audiences, performers, and staff, we have put in place a number of measures as part of our Covid-safe procedures plan, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation. Please find our current measures outlined here.

Narelle is Sydney born and bred, but lately she’s lost her sense of belonging.

The city changes all the time, places are torn down and with them go her certainties.

She finds herself drawn back to Pyrmont, formerly the working class industrial heartland of the city, but now newly gentrified as 19th century factories become shiny apartment blocks with million dollar views of Sydney Harbour. But it remains her family’s bedrock, and the home of her extraordinary grandmother June.

As she keeps going over the forces that formed her – the last man hanged in Australia, the mistakes that changed lives, her mother’s divorce, her grandfather’s decline – she tries to make sense of what she, her city, and her country have become. And what has been lost along the way.

Focusing on three generations of remarkable women, The Sugar House is a deeply moving family drama that distils the conflict of how we are raised against what we choose, and how the hope of social transformation as we move forward to embrace the future sometimes means the irretrievable loss of what built us.

The Sugar House was a hit at Sydney’s renowned Belvoir Street Theatre in 2018, where it was nominated for Best New Australian Work in the Sydney Theatre Awards. It now receives its first production outside Australia at the Finborough Theatre.

As an intimate theatre venue, we are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of performers, staff, and audience members during the current pandemic. We have reduced our audience capacity to 80% and temporarily increased our ticket prices to reflect this. Due to the size of our auditorium, we will ask audiences to wear a face covering throughout their visit including during the performance. We will also be asking audience members to provide the following evidence on arrival at the venue of either double vaccination, negative test results, or a recent infection. We will be reviewing these protocols every month and will lift them as soon as it is safe to do so. For full information, please see our Covid-19 Policy page.

About The Playwright Alana Valentine

Playwright Alana Valentine is an Australian playwright and librettist, and makes her UK debut at the Finborough Theatre. Her award-winning work with First Nations Australians includes, with co-writer Ursula Yovich, the multi Helpmann-Award winning (Best Original Score, Best Musical) Barbara and the Camp Dogs, first seen at Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, in 2017 and on tour in Australia in 2019. It was also nominated for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award as Best Drama. In November 2019, a song cycle Flight Memory, written with composer Sandra France, premiered at Street Theatre, Canberra. As well as recent productions of original plays at the Seymour Centre for Performing Arts, Sydney – Made To Measure (a commission from the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, where Alana was Writer in Residence in 2018) and Ear to the Edge of Time (winner of the 5th International Playwriting Award), Alana’s plays Parramatta Girls, Letters to Lindy and Head Full of Love have toured Australia. Her play The Ravens won the BBC/British Council International Radio Playwriting Competition in 2014 and was recently produced in the United States. Alana has also worked with First Nations artistic director Stephen Page and Bangarra Dance Theatre as dramaturg on Helpmann-Award winning Best New Australian work Bennelong as well as Patyegarang, Dark Emu and ID in Belong. Forthcoming productions include Notre Dame with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra in August 2020 and Wayside Bride to be presented by Belvoir Street Theatre in 2021. Amongst many awards and residences, she won three Australian Writers Guild Awards in 2013 including the Major Award and the Inaugural David Williamson Award for Excellence in Writing for the Australian Theatre for Grounded, and has also held an International Writing Fellowship at London’s Shakespeare's Globe Theatre . Her plays are published by Currency Press.

About The Director Tom Brennan

Director Tom Brennan is a theatre director, playwright, and filmmaker. He trained in American Theatre at Rose Bruford College and on Made in Bristol at Bristol Old Vic. His company, The Wardrobe Ensemble ("The most exciting young company I have seen for quite a while." Dominic Maxwell, The Times) is an associate company of Complicité and Shoreditch Town Hall. Tom’s work with the company has been performed at the National Theatre, Almeida Theatre, Trafalgar Studios, Soho Theatre, and Bristol Old Vic among many other venues across the UK and USA.

He was also a resident director at the Almeida Theatre on Rupert Goold’s production of Mike Bartlett’s Albion and Richard Jones’ production of Anne Washburn’s Twilight Zone. He was the Associate Director on the revival of Albion and Michael Fentiman’s production of The Windsors. Tom is also a Creative Associate of North Wall Theatre, Oxford.

For The Wardrobe Ensemble, he co-directed and co-wrote The Last of The Pelican Daughters, 1972: The Future of Sex (Winner Stage Award for Acting Excellence 2015, Spirit of The Fringe Award) and Eloise and The Curse of The Golden Whisk. He directed and co-wrote RIOT, 33, The Forever Machine, South Western and most recently a new two-woman adaptation of The Great Gatsby. He was a co-writer and performer on Education, Education, Education (Winner - Fringe First, Stage Award for Best Ensemble 2017). 1972: The Future of Sex and Education, Education, Education are published by Nick Hern.

Tom is a playwriting mentor and Creative Associate for North Wall Theatre, Oxford. Recently, he co-directed a new devised show SAFARI, as part of The North Wall’s summer residency in collaboration with The Wardrobe Ensemble. Elsewhere, he directed and co-wrote the new musicals Drac and Jill and The Rocky Shock for the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol. He also wrote and directed The Episode (2014) which toured through Spring 2017 and he directed feminist sci- fi 252AM (2015) for Shady Dolls Theatre. Tom is a founding member of The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, where in 2011 he founded Closer Each Day, an improvised soap opera that continues to be performed bi-weekly.

His music video for Dodie’s In The Middle has been viewed over 2,500,000 times.

He has taught and directed at the University of Northampton, Rose Bruford College, ALRA and Bath Spa University. He has several years’ experience running ensemble theatre workshops for young people with Bristol Old Vic, The Old Vic and Almeida Theatre.

About A Million Freds Productions

Producers A Million Freds Productions return to the Finborough Theatre after their sell out run last year of Athol Fugard’s A Lesson From Aloes, directed by Dame Janet Suzman. The Company's work has previously been seen in London and internationally including productions in  South Africa, Sweden and Ireland.

The Press On The Original Production

“A gift of theatre; an exploration of who we were, who we are and who we wish we could be.” Time Out, Sydney

“An extraordinary new play which takes us on a family saga across three generations of Pyrmont residents…The playwright’s nuanced, all-too-human characters ring devastatingly true. This is rich stuff, dealing with the story of Sydney’s now increasingly displaced working class, and its history of endemic urban crime and police corruption. It tells of how our city has sought to reinvent itself and reclaim areas of poverty and industry with almost a fetish for superficial “authenticity” for our rough-and-tumble past, rendered anodyne for expensive tastes.” Australian Stage

“As credible, tough and romantic as a Dickens saga.” Stage Noise

“Valentine weaves themes of class, injustice, “bad blood” and intergenerational tension into a female-dominated family saga replete with warm humour, heart-on-sleeve emotion and salt-of-the- earth values.” Audrey Journal

“The personal and political astuteness of Ms Valentine's storytelling…is combined with the creation of characters so beautifully realised that any actor would give their eye-teeth to have possession of them, that they will become iconic figures in our Australian literary canon. The characters have an authenticity of a studied and owned relationship, especially, that of June, Margo and Narelle - that they feel as if they come as a cri de coeur from the heart of Ms Valentine's own life. Three magnificently realised Australian women.” Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary

“Alana Valentine goes from strength to strength. None of these characters is mocked or celebrated. They are simply presented with all their human contradictions, faults feelings and small triumphs.” The Australian

“The Sugar House is also at its core about shame passed down through generations, complicated family dynamics and the need we often feel to understand the past and where we came from, in order to gain some authentic sense of identity. This is a wonderful, thoughtfully-constructed and distinctly Australian work…Each character rings true to life; the issues with which they grapple are real, and the impact they have on those who come after is undeniable.” Theatre People

“An interesting and important work as it explores the stories of the people that are usually erased from the history books and the landscape. As the Sugar Refinery made way for posh housing with only token reminders of the past which people don't really understand, stories of families like the Macreadie's would normally be forgotten as well. The Sugar House gives them a voice and shares the challenges of growing up in poverty, the changes a family can make in a few generations, and the burden on history on the future. A wonderfully presented new Australian story that should be seen.” Broadway World

The Press On The Sugar House

★★★★★ Five Stars, London Theatre Reviews
★★★★★ Five Stars, West End Best Friend
★★★★ Four Stars, London Pub Theatres
★★★★ Four Stars, Morning Star
★★★★ Four Stars, LondonTheatre1
★★★★ Four Stars, North West End
★★★★ Four Stars, Time and Leisure
★★★★ Four Stars, The Spy in The Stalls
★★★★ Four Stars, Everything Theatre
★★★★ Four Stars, London Living Large
★★★★ Four Stars, Paul in London

The Sugar House is typically Finborough; big, bold and ambitious.” Rob Warren, Everything Theatre

“Compelling, haunting and electric, The Sugar House is the show of the year. A whirlwind of heartbreak and discovery, this play takes its audience on an unforgettable journey.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Reviews

“A small-scale, dynamic production that packs a far heavier punch than the Finborough Theatre’s intimate venue would suggest.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Some wonderful moments in this hard, passionate and unsentimental play.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“Alana Valentine’s The Sugar House at the Finborough draws you into a family saga set in ever-changing industrial Sydney, finding conversational lyricism in poverty, recriminations and dreams of a better life.” Dominic Cavendish, Twitter

“A must see…As equally heart wrenching as it is warming.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“Relentlessly gritty and superbly performed, it is both ambitious kitchen sink drama and state of the nation play in one, refracting intertwined themes of social deprivation, criminality and police injustice through a single family in New South Wales, Australia.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“It’s hard to find a fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful.” Miriam Sallon, The Spy in the Stalls

The Sugar House is a moving family drama that grips you from beginning til end and takes you on an unexpected emotional whirlwind that you don’t even notice happening within you.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“A magnificently acted and well directed first UK staging.” John Groves, LondonTheatre1

“A necessary watch, highlighting voices rarely heard.” Lucy Basada, Theatre Full Stop

The Sugar House was first performed in Sydney in 2018, but its story of how industrial heartlands have become gentrified and the effects of intergenerational trauma, resonates just as well with London audiences.” Sian Bayley, The Stage

“A brilliantly directed, performed and designed performance.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“As usual at the Finborough Theatre, production values are very high and the standard of ensemble acting superb.” John Groves, LondonTheatre1

“The European premiere of an award-winning, tough family saga that recaptures both the strengths and fragilities of a working-class existence in a recognisable world that too easily forgets their circumstance or whitewashes over their past.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Intense and riveting Australian family saga…A deeply human play.” Jenny Booth, Time and Leisure

“A multi-generational epic, interspersed with laughter and sorrow.” Mariam Mathew, London Pub Theatres

“An honest, observant play.” Lucy Basada, Theatre Full Stop

“Honest, empathetic and life-changing.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Reviews

“A very powerful, thought-provoking play.” Caroline Worswick, North West End

The Sugar House is stuffed to the gills with incident, loaded with significance and weighted down by the passing on of trauma and tradition through family generations.” Alun Hood, Ajlovestheatre

“Toxic families are all explored in such a beautifully nuanced manner.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“A thought provoking commentary on the issues faced within working class households and the arduous journey to achieving social mobility.” Lucy Basada, Theatre Full Stop

“An intergenerational story which deals with the devastating effects of hardscrabble poverty, and all that comes in its wake, without sugarcoating any of the pain.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“A 21st-century kitchen-sink drama that owes much to Caryl Churchill”s style, blending historic facts with social realism.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Alana Valentine, has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the language of the characters is vivid and engaging.” Jim Cooke, London Living Large

“Excellent writing.” Caroline Worswick, North West End

“Valentine’s script is powerfully female driven.” Alun Hood, Ajlovestheatre

“Lea Dube as Jenny, Adam Fitzgerald as Ollie, Jessica Zerlina Leafe as Narelle, Fiona Skinner as Margo, Patrick Toomey as Sidney and Janine Ulfane as June are all hypnotic in their performances.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Reviews

“Superb performances given by everyone.” Caroline Worswick, North West End

“A phenomenal cast.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“The chemistry between every single cast member is electrifying and unfaltering, throwing us into their broken world.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Reviews

“The acting is glorious.” Mariam Mathew, London Pub Theatres

“Superb performances.” Caroline Worswick, North West End

“It’s hard to believe this is acting and not a window into a real family’s life.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Reviews

“Lea Dube…made a stunning professional debut.” Mariam Mathew, London Pub Theatres

“Lea Dube delivers a humorously edgy turn.” Mert Dilek, The Arts Desk

“Cheeky warmth and knowing by Lea Dube.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“Lea Dube as Jenny – the girlfriend and later wife of Ollie – turned in a subtle and engaging performance.” Emma Burnell, Plays To See

“Adam Fizgerald imbues the adored son Ollie with warmth and energy.” Alun Hood, Ajlovestheatre

“Portrayed with great understanding by Adam Fitzgerald.” John Groves, LondonTheatre1

“Adam Fitzgerald (Uncle Ollie Macreadie) plays the role with a beautiful naïveté.” Mariam Mathew, London Pub Theatres

“Jessica Zerlina Leafe is excellent.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“Beautifully captured by Jessica Zerlina Leafe’s fine performance.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Mother, daughter and granddaughter dynamics are navigated beautifully by Macreadie, Fiona Skinner and Jessica Zerlina Leafe.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“Fiona Skinner is very moving.” Howard Loxton, London Theatre Guide

“Searingly performed by Skinner.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“Janine Ulfane and Fiona Skinner make a formidable mother and daughter.” Alun Hood, Ajlovestheatre

“Such a big, ambitious play needs big characters to match, and in matriarch June (Janine Ulfane) and granddaughter Narelle (Jessica Zerlina Leafe) it certainly has them.” Rob Warren, Everything Theatre

“Margot (Fiona Skinner) and Narelle (Jessica Zerlina Leafe) – both of whom are excellent.” Jenny Booth, Time and Leisure

“Powerfully played by Janine Ulfane.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Janine Ulfane leads with a blazing performance.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“Performed flawlessly by Janine Ulfane.” Mariam Mathew, London Pub Theatres

“A superb central performance by Ulfane.” Jenny Booth, Time and Leisure

“Fantastic work especially from Janine Ulfane as the tough-talking matriarch.” Dominic Cavendish, Twitter

“Well-drawn and is beautifully interpreted by Janine Ulfane. Her performance radiates strength and resilience.” Jim Cooke, London Living Large

“Janine Ulfane is excellent.” Jim Keaveney, The Understudy

“Gentle humour and charm is brought by Patrick Toomey.” Viv Williams, West End Best Friend

“Patrick Toomey does an excellent job.” Jim Cooke, London Living Large

“Patrick Toomey delivering a dazzling clutch of roles.” William Russell, Reviewsgate

“Incredibly charming performance by Patrick Toomey.” Emma Burnell, Plays To See

“Patrick Toomey excels as Narelle’s gentle giant of a Grandfather, while managing to carve out unique identities for each of the other roles he plays.” Jim Keaveney, The Understudy

“Patrick Toomey does really beautiful work as a number of senior male figures.” Alun Hood, Ajlovestheatre

“His (Patrick Toomey) range is so good that it would be easy to assume it was different actors in each role.” Rob Warren, Everything Theatre

“Tom Brennan direction enables his talented cast to draw all the humour and pathos out of Valentine’s strong, vivid characters.” Simon Parsons, Morning Star

“Tom Brennan directs an energetic tale of class, generational trauma, history, intergenerational conflict, ambition and legacy.” Lucy Basada, Theatre Full Stop

“Beautiful direction from Tom Brennan.” Bibi Lucille, London Theatre Review

“The sprawl of time is covered deftly by director Tom Brennan and set designer Justin Nardella.” Arifa Akbar, The Guardian

“Justin Nardella’s visually striking white brick wall set.” Lucy Basada, Theatre Full Stop

“The small space only emphasises the family dynamics, sometimes chaotic, sometimes conspiratorial, the audience sat right in the lap of the action.” Miriam Sallon, The Spy in the Stalls

27 October - 20 November 2021

Tickets and Times

Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm

Approximately two hours and twenty minutes including one interval of fifteen minutes.