17 Feb 2016

Arthur Hughes and Genevieve Barr on The Solid Life of Sugar Water

The Solid Life of Sugar Water by the award winning Jack Thorne, is an intimate, tender portrait of loss, hurt and recovery. Co-produced by Graeae Theatre Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth, the production makes its way to Hull Truck Theatre from 18 – 20 February 2016.

We briefly caught up with lead actors Arthur Hughes and Genevieve Barr, who discuss their experiences working on this challenging but unique production.

Why did you both start getting into acting?

GB: I got into acting by accident if I’m honest – I was teaching at a school in Peckham and a friend who worked in television was on the hunt for a deaf actress. I thought I would audition and see what happened. It went from there.

AH: For me, it’s always been since I was little, loving showing off, doing silly voices. It’s so much fun, pretending to be someone else, and you learn a lot about the world, and about yourself.

So, tell me briefly about the storyline of The Solid Life of Sugar Water and the role of your characters…

AH: The Solid Life of Sugar Water is about Phil and Alice, a couple trying to reconnect sexually following a traumatic stillbirth. The audience is taken through their history, first meeting, first loving, and their awkward attempts at sex after the awful event they go through. By the end, everyone is privy to the details of why they cannot connect. I don’t want to give too much away.

Do you feel the approach of the production could be considered fairly unique?

GB: Absolutely – it’s new ground in many ways. But that derives from the script and Jack’s unique writing itself, as well as the subject matter which is so common and yet unspoken about.

AH: The show is unique in that there is very little dialogue between the two characters. Alice and Phil speak the unsaid between each other, to the audience; in two interspersed monologues between each other. This takes place down on the ether of the stage during memories and flashbacks, and on our marvellous vertical set of a bedroom; the arena for each awkward and unsuccessful sexual endeavour.

Which parts of the production have touched you the most and why?

 AH: Finding what I had in common with Phil was an interesting and emotional one. Learning the dark and confusing world of a married relationship post stillbirth was a sad and fascinating one. Phil is young, eccentric and strangely logical, detached more emotionally than Alice, initially fuelling their attraction, but proving to be a crucial block when they need to connect to each other most.

GB: All of it – it’s an emotional rollercoaster as a performer – such stark highs and lows. The conversations that I have had with the audience after the show, where they have shared their experiences with me, have been deeply moving.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the performance?

GB: An actor is always looking for challenges as it keeps you on the edge. This play is constantly challenging – technically there is a scene when both characters are on the bed and Phil is having sex whilst Alice is in labour to a dead baby at the same time. It’s a very physically and emotionally demanding scene.

AH: The story must be told fresh and clear every night. But we always need to find a way to tell it as if it’s the first time we’ve ever heard it, so it’s completely alive for the audience. Also, the illusion of lying in a comfortable bed when standing can be a tricky one!

The play notably isn’t about disability but happens to have disabled people in it. Do you feel the public may assume otherwise when ‘disabled actors’ are mentioned?

 AH: I think this is a bold, brave, essential step in the right direction for theatre. A production where two main characters are any two people and their disabilities are incidental. I look forward to a day when audiences do not assume a play with disabled actors means a play exclusively about disability.

GB: Perhaps. I don’t know – people come to see theatre for all sorts of different reasons. I think it’s right that Graeae showcase disabled talent – and that they are explicit in doing so. It’s a bonus to everything else with the show, right?

Graeae Theatre Company are known to ‘challenge preconceptions, champion accessibility’ and ‘place deaf and disabled artists centre stage’ as part of their programme. Do you feel the acting industry needs more of these companies in order to cater to disabled actors?

GB: Of course they do. But by saying ‘more of these companies,’ do you mean disability led companies? I’m not sure that’s necessarily the answer. Graeae is niche and world-class. Because it is bold in telling the world what it’s trying to do. What I do think is that the acting industry needs to be more confident in utilising disabled actors, in finding creative ways to introduce accessibility to their work and being bolder and more proactive in their diversity ambitions. And that’s not just me being selfish, that’s because audiences are so influenced and led by what they see. And perceptions need changing. The acting industry holds a huge amount of power.

AH: Graeae certainly lead the charge for changing the theatre industry, campaigning to create a playing field for all. More companies like Graeae, funding and initiatives would certainly support this, but further access, cooperation and integration with leading institutions is essential also.

Have there been any particular aspects of playing your characters which have changed your previous approaches to acting?

AH: This is the most challenging role I’ve ever had. And the best. The intensity of the role, the play and the scale of exposure since we first started the show, has been unlike anything I’ve done before.

GB: I have done a lot more television than theatre, so this was always going to be a big learning curve for me. The bonus with doing a brand new play is that you don’t have to worry about how other actors have interpreted the role, you make all those first exciting discoveries.

Do you both have any other projects in the pipeline?

GB: There’s definitely some conversations going on about future projects but the road ahead is still very unclear. Being deaf, I don’t get as many auditions as I’d like but I am hoping that will start to change. Who knows what is ahead!

AH: Ah, that would be telling!

The Solid Life of Sugar Water – National Tour spring 2016 from Graeae on Vimeo.

Book Now for The Solid Life of Sugar Water at Hull Truck Theatre.

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