'I think that the fringe is a very important showcase' - Interview with Sugar's Mabel Thomas
With ‘a strong script and riveting performance by Mabel Thomas’ (Fringe Biscuit), Sugar was an online hit of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and this year will be heading to the festival in the flesh.
Written and performed by Mabel Thomas, Sugar is an exploration into what it means to win and an interrogation into where and when women learn the art of self-exploitation in today’s world ‘where Louis Vuitton makes dog leashes and sex work is just clicks away’. The story follows Mae from the age of six to adulthood as she grows up with the sole purpose to win.
Described as ‘completely engaging from start to finish; witty, well-observed and at times devastating’ by Three Weeks Edinburgh, Sugar runs at SpaceUK @ Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 3 from 5-27 August at 19.05.
I was lucky enough to talk to Mabel all about the show and the famous Edinburgh Fringe.
Could you please tell us about the show?
Sugar is a new-writing solo-show coming-of-age story (if I had a dollar for every hyphen that I used describing the show, I could pay my venue fee). It follows Mae, a self-described innovator, rule breaker and entrepreneur from the age of 6 to the age of 18. As she ages, the audience joins Mae in discovering what she feels is right and wrong and what it means to win. By the time that she is 18, the audience understand her impulses, and by extension, how a lot of women’s self-exploitative behaviour is learned.
How do you feel about taking the show to the fringe live for the first time, after being an online success last year?
I am SO excited to be doing the show live. Last year, I was planning on bringing the show in person, but due to Covid (gross), I wasn’t able to make it happen. I decided, instead, to present the show online, so that I could still participate in the fringe. I hired five film makers in their third year at my school (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) to help me film/put together last year’s digital version.
Presenting the show digitally was an excellent ‘taster’ for the fringe. I had to deal with the endless emails to reviewers begging them to see/review the show, the budgeting (admittedly on a much smaller scale) and the crazy excitement of participating in the festival. It was a great way to see what worked and what didn’t. It also showed me the amazing time-sucking pull that fringe twitter yields. This year I can’t wait to interact with a live audience, and to experience again, the magic of live theatre!
What goes into creating a one women show for a platform such as the fringe?
I started writing the show in April of 2021. I had some bits and bobs that I wanted to put together; a piece of writing I’d done in my second year of drama school for solo-work development (led by Meghan Tyler who is amazing) and some other anecdotes from my childhood that I was able to weave into the story. As a young actor I’ve been bombarded with “make your OWN work, don’t wait for someone to cast you” from age 14 on, and I wanted to follow that advice…and also prove to those people that I had it in me to make my own work.
After I had a first draft I went online, googled a bunch of successful past fringe shows, and reached out to their writers to ask for dramaturgical help. I connected with Aisha Josiah, a brilliant writer/dramaturg/producer/mentor/awesome human and we started working together to develop my show. I’m incredibly lucky to have found her as both her dramaturgical prowess and Fringe Festival advice have been priceless. Once I’d finished a final draft, I hired my filmmaker friends and we shot in an empty bedroom, filming the show over 3 long, caffeine fuelled days.
This year, my preparation has consisted of rewriting/reworking the piece for the live stage and also taking into consideration the constructive feedback I got last year and altering the script accordingly.
Do you think it’s important to tell honest stories that audiences could possibly relate to?
One of the main reasons I feel compelled to tell a story like Sugar is that, in today’s world, a lot of us *think* we’re grown up and capable of handling ourselves far before we really are. For young people facing the impossible-to-infiltrate wealth accumulation model (looking at you, housing market) sites like OnlyFans.com and Sugar Baby forums are often touted as answers to the endless quest for more money. Sex work is becoming slightly less stigmatized (although we have a LONG way to go in terms of making it safe etc.) and I think often young people can get pulled in by its “too good to be true” promises. Being open and honest about what’s happening culturally seems like an important responsibility for theatre makers so young audience members might start thinking about these things, and what their own boundaries are before they’re confronted with an offer of “spend time with me and I’ll pay you $4,000.”
Do you think that events such as the Edinburgh fringe are important for bringing small shows and new work to audiences?
I’ve been reading a lot about how the fringe has been tackling its accessibility barriers recently and I think the festival certainly does still have a long way to go (the only reason I can afford to bring Sugar to the fringe is that I got a little lucky faffing around in the stock market last summer and I live with my parents so all the money I’ve made at jobs recently has gone into the show) so for someone without my privileges and advantages it would be tough to get their shows to the Fringe. Nonetheless, it is still a more accessible venue that trying to approach the National or Royal Court Theatres and getting them to put up your show. So yes, I think that the fringe is a very important showcase for new work from underrepresented voices, but we still have a lot of work to do to make it more financially accessible.
What would you like the audiences to get out of your show?
My dream is that my audience will leave the show, go to a pub or somewhere with great food, and argue. I present a lot of ideas in the show that are morally ambiguous, and I’d love for the audience to have to work through how they feel about what they saw. I also want my audience to feel it was 50 minutes well spent and remember a couple of light-hearted or funny moments (after all, theatre is first and foremost meant to entertain).
Why should fringe goers come and see your show?
Mae is a fascinating character, and it’s a joy to spend just under an hour with her
You’ll come away evaluating your own beliefs and what winning means to you
I have some jams as in-between music, so if nothing else, come for the bops
I would like to thank Mabel for taking the time to talk to us and wish her the very best for Sugar’s run at the Edinburgh Fringe (Tickets available here https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/sugar) and the future
If you are looking for more shows to see at the Fringe (there is a lot on offer), here are some recommendations from Mabel of some great feminist work on offer.
Poles: The Science of Magnetic Attraction
by Millie Pitcher @ThePleasance
The Cellar-Pleasance Courtyard 2:10pm Aug 23-29
by Anna Krauze @ThePleasance
Bunker Three-Pleasance Courtyard 11:35am
Best Ideas Happen on the Toilet
by Claudia Saavedra @theSpaceUK
Studio at TheSpaceTriplex 6:15pm Aug 14-18
by Charlotte Anne Tilley @Gildedballoon
Snug, Patter House, Gilded Balloon 1:40pm Aug 3-28
Dear Little Loz
by Lauren Nicole Mayes @theSpaceUK
Surgeons Hall Theatre 2, 12:00pm Aug 5-27
by Amie Enriquez @FollowTheCow
Underbelly, George Square - The Wee Coo 2:50pm Aug 3-29
Please Feel Free to Share
by Rachel Causer @ThePleasance
Pleasance Courtyard-The Attic 12:50pm Aug 3-29
by Florence Espeut-Nickless @FollowTheCow
Underbelly, Cowgate, Belly Button 5:20pm Aug 4-28
by Olivia McLeod @Gildedballoon
Snug, Gilded Balloon 9:40pm Aug 3-28