The Sugar House is a Sydney tale concerned with coming to terms with your battler background in a city that despises such things. It's about trying to hang onto the legacies and memories of our forbears amidst a constant desire for the powers that be to cement them up with modern facades of respectability.
We go inside the memories of Narelle McCreadie (Sheridan Harbridge) to a time of her growing up in working class Pyrmont where the CSR sugar refinery played a huge part. We go down the rabbit hole into her childhood as she reverts back to an eight year old surrounded by her grandparents June (Kris McQuade) and Sidney (Lex Marinos), mother Margo (Sacha Horler) and her uncle Ollie (Josh McConville) and aunt Jenny (Nikki Shiels). We learn how a current day warehouse conversion apartment block was once filled with the colourful and overworked lives of the staff working at the CSR sugar refinery.
Although focusing on a different era of gentrification, The Sugar House's message of 'hands off our city" has validity in the Sydney of 2018.
Everyday we trudge through the current round of 'wiping away working class memories'. The streets and landmarks my mother and grandmother would talk about and that I eventually experienced, are being bulldozed in the name of progress. The light rail construction is tearing away at not only physical remnants of our past but also our memories and ties to our working class roots. It pains me each day to wander the streets of Sydney.
So it was with much delight I witnessed a new Australian play that projected on stage my feelings of despair and displacement. All this current demolition chaos sweeping Sydney streets was never signed on by me. The pain and anguish about working class injustice spoke to my heart. Narelle's story of her family's struggle to create a thin veneer of respectability amidst a battler passion deep within, resonated.
Like many third generation Sydney-siders, you don't have to scratch too far beneath the surface to reveal working class roots with a few skeletons. Let's face it, Sydney and it's inhabitants have an often seedy past.
The Sugar House reveals the tightrope many walk between their past and current persona. It also makes it known the price battlers pay in the smartening up of a city. There is an impassioned monologue by Margo that sums up the cost of covering up your working class past, ripping down memories, and the injustices that continue to occur for the battlers of Sydney.
"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 Sugar House is a strong reminder of the legacy of our forbears - the prices they paid for the benefits we reap. It is all too easy to take for granted their hardships. I walked out of that play trying to reconcile my place in this city with the sacrifices and traumas my grandmother and mother experienced to give me the life I take all too quickly for granted.
Thought provoking and impassioned, The Sugar House is a ripper play that delves inside Sydney's social history. Not to be missed. Running until June 3rd at Belvoir Theatre (Upstairs).
Tickets can be purchased online at https://belvoir.com.au/productions/the-sugar-house/