The Sugar House by Alana Valentine. The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10. 3***. William Russell.

At some two and a half hours this saga of a family living in a down market Sydney suburb which goes up in the world is just too long. Once working class areas that become the home for the upwardly mobile is something familiar enough here so the piece does have resonance, but one never really cares about the Macreadie family presided over by a tough old boot of a matriarch well done by Janine Ulfane as she is. The cast is good with Patrick Toomey delivering a dazzling clutch of roles from her husband Sidney to a smooth politician, Sheahan, the New South Wales Attorney General, and managing to be completely different in all of them without actually changing very much. But in the end it all looked a bit like an overextended episode of East Enders. It opens in 1985 with lawyer Narelle visiting a new development of flats built on an old sugar factory in which her grandfather worked and close to where the family lived. Then we meet grandma, who is tough as old boots, is intent on trhe family bettering itself which, given the family, is a hard task. The plot also involves the capital punishment law in New South Wales which was changed, the possibility of bad seed running through families, and the evils of colonization. It is a lot to off load at one time and one crumples beneath the burden. If one had any sympathy for the bolshie Narelle, played to the hilt by Jessica Zerlina Leafe, it might work better but she is about as off-putting as anyone can be. Fiona Skinner, as her mother Margo, has a deeply affecting death bed scene – she gets cancer, and somehow or other she and Grandma Macreadie make Narelle face up to reality and take the job for her they have wangled with the Attorney General. The cast is sound, the simple set by Justin Nardella well up to the high standards of the Finborough, but the play is the thing and maybe it all went down better in New South Wells. In West Brompton it goes down but in quite the wrong way so those stars are for the cast.

June Macreadie: Janine Ulfane.
Narelle Macreadie: Jessica Zerlina leafe.
Marho Macreadie: Fiona Skinner.
Sidney Macreadie and all other parts: Patrick Twoomey.
Ollie Macreadie, Tatoo artist: Adam Fitzgerald.
Jenny, Estate Agent: Lea Duke.

Director: Tom Brenna.
Set and Costume Desiner: Justin Nardella.
Lighting Designer: Sherry coenen.
Sound Designer: Ellie Showering.
Fight Director:Keith Wallis.
Production photographs:Pamela Raith

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