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Sugar - Edinburgh Fringe Interview

Wonderful talent Mabel Thomas is bringing her show Sugar to the Edinburgh Festival. The show runs at the festival at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall playing throughout the month (Aug 5th to 27th, not on the 14th or 21st) at 7.05pm. Grab yourself some tickets here.

The show follows Mae as she grows up as an ambitious young woman in a world ready to see her fail. It promises to be a rollercoaster of laughs and poignancy, a piece to leave the audience thinking. Ahead of the festival, I spoke to Mabel all about the show.

Our chat began with me asking Mabel to explain more about Sugar and the character of Mae. Mabel explained "Sugar is a 50-minute new solo show that follows our main character, Mae, through six ages in her life. It’s a coming of age story (amongst other things) that explores where women learn self-exploitative behaviors, and what it means to “win”. (but don’t worry it’s not all serious philosophical drama). Mae is a spunky, queer, rule breaker who enjoys nothing more than winning. At 6 years old, Mae is highly attuned to politics (on the playground), a recognized athletic champion (specialty: hopping) and an avid fan of “air quotes”. As Mae grows up, her working class background stands out among her wealthier peers and she begins to equate money with success."

"Mae doesn’t have a righteous moral imperative guiding her actions, she’s mostly “in it for herself”. Because she’s a woman and is so financially/selfishly driven I suppose she’d be classified as an anti-hero, however I think that’s because we see motivation as gendered. I couldn’t tell you how many guys I know who just worship Leonardo DiCaprio’s character of Jordan Belfort from Wolf of Wall Street or even Elon Musk for their “grind”. But when it’s a woman in the story, it seems like their pursuit of wealth/success must be a means to an end of supporting their family (for example) as opposed to an end in itself. *steps off soapbox* Mae’s character often rejects social moral directives (both consciously and unconsciously) and I think it’s fun for the audience to spend time with someone who is relatively unbound by conventional “morality”"

For Mabel, the show comes from some own her life experience "A lot of the story came from my own experiences and musings (thinking “what if” and then living out elaborate scenarios in my head, be honest- we all do it). I started writing down some of the crazy things I did as a child and they fit themselves into a story of explaining how such a seemingly “normal girl” could end up making choices that aren’t, shall we say, “conventional” in her later years. From a very young age, Mae realizes she can bend completely ignore the rules to get things she wants, so later choices seem like a natural escalation.

Other inspiration came from some of the modern-day TV classics for Mabel "I drew inspiration from are Naomi Sheldon’s “Good Girl”, Michaela Cole’s “I May Destroy You” and, of course, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag”."

That personal element continues as I asked how much of a Mabel can be found in Mae "Quite a bit. I used real stories from my life for most of the source material so Mae’s very close to me. I don’t think anyone could fit their whole self into a play, like I’ve had 23 years of character development, it’s hard to fit all of that into 50 minutes. But I do think we share a lot of the same traits. (Competitiveness, rebelliousness, a dislike for statistical math etc.)"

For Mabel speaking to a 2022 audience is something that is clearly important. She explained "Sugar is most definitely written with a modern audience in mind. From the themes to the cultural references I wanted it to feel like a fresh piece of writing exploring a relatively new area. Also, I think some of the cultural commentary in the show is especially relevant to modern audiences. For people my age, so many things are prohibitively expensive (looking at you, housing market) so young people have begun to accept formerly “taboo” methods of generating income. Sites like OnlyFans and other forms of sex work are much more socially accepted (granted, we still have a long way to go towards de-stigmatizing sex work and making it safer) but as people pursue earning money this way, I don’t know that they enter into it fully comprehending the toll that such work can take."

"From the beginning, Mae thinks she’s a lot more grown up than she is, and I think that’s a common trait in today’s world."

In 2021 with the Fringe cancelled due to the global pandemic Mabel released a filmed performance of the show. I posed how has Mabel gone about transforming that back into a stage performance "The first thing I did when I realized I was going to present Sugar live was to go back and re-read all of the negative feedback I’d received. (It was just as fun as it sounds). I figured I had another shot so I wanted to see what I could improve. Some of the criticism I took to heart and made adjustments in the show and some criticisms I disregarded because they were wrong and they just didn’t get it and no way I’m not taking out my Malala joke it’s not meant to be disrespectful and I think it’s funny."

"Then, I started working with my director to add things specific to a live theatre piece. Transitions where I’d previously been able to cut the footage and put in titles, props that I can use night after night, blocking that will fit the space etc."

"Finally, I’ve just been running the show. 50 minutes isn’t that long, but it is if you keep forgetting your lines. I want to be sure I’ve got the show down into my muscle memory and I’m comfortable enough with it that I can turn on that ever-sought-after actor’s dual consciousness and tailor each performance to the audience."

With the challenge of developing a new piece I asked Mabel what research was required as the writing process went on "As a part of the show takes place in elementary/middle school I had to figure out if the cultural references and jokes I wanted to use would translate to a UK audience and to people of different generations from myself. This research consisted of a lot of me asking my British friends things like “Were pencils with duct tape flowers on them a status symbol when you were 12, too?” and “Do you know what a raffle prize is?” (Yes. British people do, in fact know what a raffle prize is, well at least my friends do.) And telling other jokes around my parents/friends of different ages to see if they landed."

"I also did a lot of research into the movement and speech of children at different ages because as an actor I wanted to make my performance as specific as possible. I watched all of the Jimmy Kimmel “I told my kids I ate all of their Halloween candy” videos on YouTube (highly recommend) as well as looking at my own home movies/footage of me from different ages to steal physicalities, speech patterns and other mannerisms."

It always fascinated me how an artist comes up with a title for a show, especially for the Fringe where there is undoubtedly a lot of competition. Mabel explained "I knew I wanted something short and bold. I’ve seen one too many long titled pieces be shortened into a weird abbreviation and I didn’t want to give anyone leeway to mess with what I titled the piece. (Another similarity between Mae and myself, we both like to be in control.) And, without giving too much away, “Sugar” relates quite directly to the plot in the second half of the show. As “foo-foo” as it sounds, the title did just kind of come to me after I’d started writing the play. Only after I’d decided to call the show Sugar did I start thinking of all the deeper meanings it could hold (we all want Sugar but that doesn’t mean we should have it, Sugar is often something that’s restricted to us when we’re young so when we’re finally old enough to eat whatever we want we overdo it and make ourselves sick etc.) So as much as I’d like to claim creative genius, I kind of just picked a noun that worked and ran with it. 

Sugar sees Mabel making her Edinburgh Fringe debut something that is of great excitement "SO EXCITED. Like infinity times infinity excited. I’ve already caught the buzz from the amazing social media interactions I’ve had with other shows and I can’t wait to get to the Fringe and start seeing other people’s work as well as sharing my own. The #FemFringe hashtag is a great example of how performers are coming together to promote others/help each other out and it feels like a really supportive environment. People seem to be really keen for everyone to succeed which is an incredible feeling. Like they say, a rising tide lifts all boats."

That sense of community is something that has been of great help and importance to Mabel as she has prepared for the festival, she explained "As an emerging artist/show operating on a shoestring marketing budget I can’t stress enough how helpful fellow fringe artists have been in generating buzz for the show! In addition to the pragmatic angle of increasing the number of people who know about Sugar, it’s incredibly comforting to have so many artists who are supporting each other. The sense of community has made the prospect of a first-time-Fringe a lot less terrifying and a lot more exciting. In the spirit of #FemFringe, here are some other fantastic shows led by women and nonbinary folks to check out this fringe:"

Poles: The Science of Magnetic Attraction 

by Millie Pitcher @ThePleasance

The Cellar-Pleasance Courtyard 2:10pm Aug 23-29

Daddy Issues

by Anna Krauze @ThePleasance

Bunker Three-Pleasance Courtyard 11:35am

Aug 3-29

Best Ideas Happen on the Toilet

by Claudia Saavedra @theSpaceUK

Studio at TheSpaceTriplex  6:15pm Aug 14-18

Almost Adult

by Charlotte Anne Tilley @Gildedballoon

Snug, Patter Hoose, Gilded Balloon 1:40pm Aug 3-28

Dear Little Loz

by Lauren Nicole Mayes @theSpaceUK

Surgeons Hall Theatre 2, 12:00pm Aug 5-27

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 5:20 Aug 4-28

The Beatles Were a Boyband

by F-Bomb Theatre @Gildedballoon

Big Yin, Patter Hoose 8:00pm Aug 6-13

And all of the shows listed on this bangin' fringe map created by Charlotte Anne Tilley:

I posed the question I asked all my interviewees 'what does theatre mean to you?' and Mabel's answer fascinated me "This question nearly started a fistfight in my first year of drama school so I’ll go very broad and say that theatre is basically anything that someone makes and says “this is theatre”."

"Good theatre is another question. I think good theatre has two requirements. It entertains and it makes people feel. It’s great if it teaches/starts social change etc. but I think the basis of all of the positive change theatre can create stems from making people feel."

Finally, I asked Mabel simply why should anybody come and see the show. 

"1. Mae’s a really fun person to spend just under an hour with 

2. You will laugh and you will feel

3. I’ve got some great transitional music."

Sugar runs at  theSpace@SurgeonsHall Theatre 3 August 5th -27th (not 14, 21) at 7:05pm. Tickets are available from

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