facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
# I MISS THEATRE
Are you missing theatre as much as we are? Support us now with Theatre Tokens and see your favourite shows when they reopen.

The Sugar Wife

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 22 April 2008

“Tea and sugar – can’t have one without the other.” That is the lesson of history, according to Samuel Tewkley, an affluent Irish tea merchant and Quaker. His elegant but sparse rural mansion is the setting for Elizabeth Kuti’s new play, The Sugar Wife, which examines the themes of political morality, sexual politics and philanthropy, and is also, I fancy, a meditation on the nature of happiness, writes Tan Parsons…

The play, which is making its UK premiere at the Soho Theatre, has just been nominated for Best New Play and Best Set Design in the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards. It is set in nineteenth century Dublin and focuses on the relationships between Samuel and his wife Hannah, and their eagerly awaited guests, Sarah Worth – an emancipated slave from America’s deep south – and Alfred Darby, the philanthropic Yorkshireman who first bought and then freed her.

Despite everybody’s best intentions, it does not take long for Samuel’s compromised moral values to aggravate the righteous Alfred, and sparks soon start to fly. Even with his austere home and puritan religion, Samuel is a man of flesh and blood – as he says: “My conscience is my own.” This is the mantra by which he permits himself to dabble discreetly in such unQuakerly activities as frequenting the odd brothel and taking the occasional pinch of snuff. In a moment of fraternal weakness, however, he confides in Alfred and sets in motion a string of events that will change their lives in a most unexpected way.

Against a backdrop of the Tewkleys’ religion and the narrative of America’s slave trade, The Sugar Wife takes turns both comic and sad, exposing through painfully recognisable moments of human weakness, the main characters’ personal desires and how they clash with public façades. This subtly unveils each of the four main characters’ true motivations, and ultimately leaves them needing to reassess their values, relationships and the way they live their lives.

The deliberately plain set is brought to life with ingenious lighting techniques, with spotlights aimed up at the actors through the floorboards or down through overhead grids, and at times gives a haunting, dungeon-like feel. The soundtrack, which is played live, consists solely of notes plucked on a harp. This is used to create a wide range of effects throughout the performance, from soft, lilting melodies in the more tender scenes, through to scary, discordant buzzing in the moments of heightened tension.

Resonating with contemporary dilemmas, The Sugar Wife essentially looks at a wealthy society’s precarious balance between the aspiration to live ethically and the need to make a living. As Samuel Tewkley says, “without money, what would become of all this charity?”

The Sugar Wife is being staged by the Rough Magic theatre company and is directed by Lynne Parker. It stars Barry Barnes, Jane Brennan, Susan Salmon, Sarah-Jane Drummey and Robert Price, and will run until 11 February at Soho Theatre.

TP

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.