Theatre Review: Belvoir’s Tiny Beautiful Things reminds us of the power of human connection

To know Tiny Beautiful Things, at Sydney’s Belvoir, is to know the heart and mind of Cheryl Strayed, the woman upon whose New York Times bestselling book the play is based. For two years Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for the website The Rumpus under the name ‘Sugar’. It is the letters received during this time, and her candid, honest responses which form the premise of Tiny Beautiful Things.

Stephen Geronimos, Mandy McElhinney, Nic Prior and Angela Nica Sullen

Adapted by Nia Vardalos for New York’s Public Theater, we are introduced to Sugar (Mandy McElhinney) as she moves about her home, picking up toys and cleaning dishes. Anonymous questions are recited by three writers (Stephen Geronimos, Angela Nica Sullen and Nic Prior) with Sugar providing frank and deeply personal responses, often drawing from her own life experiences.

Angela Nica Sullen and Mandy McElhinney

There is the woman grieving a miscarriage unable to move on, the man whose 22 year old son was killed in an accident, and the person wondering if role-playing as sexy Santa is creepy. Some stories will make you laugh, others will break your heart, but all will make you feel seen.

Nic Prior and Mandy McElhinney

McElhinney is exceptional as Sugar / Cheryl, with her ability to be authentically raw and vulnerable in a way that comforts and holds the audience. There is something oddly reassuring in the way Sugar moves about her house, cleaning and doing laundry. The ease and simplicity of routine, of the familiar, feels juxtaposed against the words being spoken.

Mandy McElhinney

One of the greatest gifts you can receive is the knowledge that you are not alone. You are not alone in your grief, your confusion, your curiosity. This is the gift Sugar gives her readers, and it is the gift this performance gives its audience.

Directed by Lee Lewis, Tiny Beautiful Things is the balm our society needs right now and a potent reminder that we are not as different from each other as we think. Most have experienced pain, joy, grief and are striving for acceptance, forgiveness, understanding. That feeling of knowing and being known by others. Tiny Beautiful Things holds a mirror up to our humanity and says I see you, and I love you.

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Tiny Beautiful Things at Belvoir runs until 2 March 2024.

For more information and to purchase tickets head to the Belvoir website.

Reviewer attended on 3 February 2024.

Photos: Brett Boardman