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Edinburgh review: Sugar Baby (Summerhall)

Dirty Protest stages a one-man show about a Cardiff drug dealer who gets mixed up with the local gangster

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Alex Griffin-Griffiths as Marc in Sugar Baby
© KIRSTEN MCTERNAN

Paines Plough's portable Roundabout stage makes a specialty of intimate, tiny-cast stories and new writing that's localised: small-town, coming-of-age tales which are funny and poignant in equal measure. Alan Harris' Love, Lies and Taxidermy was a great example last year: a knotty, peppy Welsh epic about a boy whose girlfriend decides she has to star in a porno to help her dad out of debt. This year, Dirty Protest stage another Harris tale set in Wales. Here it's Marc who is trying to help his dad out of debt and in the process he's contending with a particularly nasty petty gangster and, er, a talking seal.

One man plays all the characters and Alex Griffin-Griffiths gives a very watchable but slightly out-of-breath performance throughout. Sugar Baby is non-stop and Griffin-Griffiths definitely needs to learn how to properly use those lungs.

It's set in an area of Cardiff where you can buy a passport from the guy next door and payday loan companies are making a packet. Weed-dealer Marc is on his way to the local mob boss Oggy to try to plead with him to transfer his dad's six grand debt to him, so that his dad avoids yet another beating from angry bully-boys. While he's there he bumps into Lisa who is also in debt, and in lieu of payment, Oggy wants Lisa to become his woman. She needs to turn up, look pretty, dote on him when they are out on the town and provide all the sexual favours of a girlfriend. He wants to buy her, basically, because that's what gangsters do.

Lisa and Marc bond over the mess they are each in but when hanging out in front of a statue of a famous seal in Victoria Park, Oggy turns up. Marc manages to knock him against the bronze amphibian and down he goes. He's dead, thinks Marc, and the rest of the play turns into a high-energy, hallucinatory, manic on-the-run mission with an exceptionally brutal resolve.

Sugar Baby is a lot of fun, but ultimately it feels improbable. And if you've seen much else in the Roundabout tent or even by Harris, the story will feel recognisable. It's a kind of Welsh adventure that exposes some of the truths of living in the poorer areas of Cardiff today and wraps them all up in an endearing romp. But where Love, Lies… felt as though the characters had something very real to lose – and they were rounded figures in their own right - the characters in Sugar Baby are a little one-dimensional. It all feels a little thin.

It's definitely not a bad way to spend an hour, however, and once he's caught his breath, performer Griffin-Griffiths is an endearing stage presence.

Sugar Baby runs at Summerhall until 27 August.

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