The term “girlboss”, which by now has launched a thousand TK Maxx wall decals, was originally brought into the public consciousness by Sophia Amoruso in 2014. Her book of the same name details the stratospheric rise of her company Nasty Gal, which, if you needed a reminder, is the fast fashion chain whose factory was accused of paying workers £3.50 an hour. You can’t get that bread without breaking a few eggs and employment laws.
Namesake aside, girlboss feminism posits that it’s not the patriarchy holding us women back – it’s ourselves. If we just lean in hard enough, the boardroom tables will turn. This mindset ignores, of course, the intersections of race and class which makes this vision unattainable for many poor women and women of colour; it also fails to interrogate whether feminism can (or should) even coexist with capitalism.
Given the controversy surrounding this ideology, it’s impressive that one-woman show Sugar dissects its pitfalls so succinctly in just over 50 minutes. The piece follows May (played by Mabel Thomas), a young woman trying to live her best entrepreneurial life – no matter what the cost.
The show cleaves itself into two chapters: the first focuses on various points in May’s life when she starts realising her bossbabe dreams through schemes of dubious morality. Thomas lays bare the problems of girlbosser-y through these anecdotes; when she quips, “no one became a millionaire by following the law” midway through picking a lock, we are reminded of the fact that this mindset does not seek to remove untenable systems – it merely aims to change who’s benefiting from them.
All of the scenes in the first half of the show emphasise the perils of this win-at-any-cost mentality. However, some do so more effectively than others – for a tale about ambition, Sugar has plenty of it, as it probes the relationship between feminism and capitalism while also weaving in other aspects of May’s experience as a lesbian in conservative suburbs without two Louis Vuittons to rub together. Any one of these topics would be enough for its own show, but all of them together in such a short time make May’s arc a little convoluted.
The second half of the show, however, is where Thomas’ acting really shines. The links between specific anecdotes become clearer, as the story becomes increasingly uncomfortable and culminates in a visceral final scene. There are some pacing issues (for example, conversations with the disembodied voice of her sugar daddy seem unnecessary, as Thomas has already proved that she’s got more than enough talent to carry a scene alone). Overall, though, it neatly rounds off the unease we’ve felt building throughout the previous half hour.
Sugar (much like the bossbabe life it’s critiquing) wants to have it all – but as a result, it juggles too many themes in the first half it can’t fully flesh out. However, the second half packs a suckerpunch: powerful acting, effective cinematography and the thorough examination of a worldview determined only by money – and how to get more of it.