Writer: Marius Von Mayenburg
Director: Sarah Bradley
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
The best way to get ahead in life is to be beautiful. Kim Kardashian has more Instagram and Twitter followers due to her internet breaking selfies then any Nobel Prize winner. In fact, it’s not even close. Beauty sells, ideas don’t. Marius Von Mayenburg’s biting satire on looks, consumerism and vanity is a rollicking 60minutes of entertainment with a scalpel-sharp core. It makes you laugh and then catches the laugh at the back of your throat when the writing hits its targets right on the chin.
Lette finds out the hard way that looks count, a brilliant inventor who is looked over presenting his ideas at a conference as he is ‘hideously ugly’. His wife can only look him in the left eye when she talks to him, his managers don’t take him seriously, passing the glamour jobs over to the pretty boy whose face fits the product. Taking the drastic step to change his face with surgery, he soon finds himself with new possibilities in work and in the bedroom. If you have a face that can be brought to resemble the best bits of Beckham, Clooney and Pitt though there is nothing to stop others from purchasing the same product. Is our identity now something that can be as easily acquired as putting down a credit card?
The Ugly One is the first of four pieces in this year’s Bristol Old Vic MA Directors Showcase and Sarah Bradley has set a high standard to start. She has crafted a work that pitches its tone and its performances somewhere between the primary colour verve of Dick Tracy and Ionesco’s theatre of the absurd. Larger than life and full of brio the performances are infectious and joyous without necessarily nailing the darker notes that would make them terrifying as well.
Will Kelly has the difficult job of being the straight man who finds the world changes when his face does. He goes from sucker in the rat race to preening peacock well, it is a testament to the production that after the surgery you look at him and genuinely believe that he has become more attractive without any cosmetic changes having taken place. Lily Donovan plays wife and mistress, her botoxed face contortion she pulls as the septuagenarian lover to Lette is almost worth the ticket price alone. Josh Finan is the face of consumerism as boss and surgeon while Jac Baylis portrays the conventionally beautiful who are left in the shade by the paid for version. All of them have fun showing off their versatility and being let off the leash somewhat under Bradley’s assured direction.
Natasha Mortimer has put a septic office on to the Alma Tavern stage, a reminder of the grey life that Lette’s has before his surgery though it is less effective at being able to convey the glamour of the middle section of foreign trips and opportunities galore. With the actors creating their own sound effects from computer start-ups to photocopiers whirling and gleeful movement sections that define the surgery and machines Bradley uses her showcase as a great calling card. What could feel superfluous in other hands feels confidently right in hers.
Ultimately it’s Von Mayenburg’s piece that stands out, though. On the button, fantastically enjoyable and tinged with just enough venom under its shiny exterior it is a modern classic. Let’s hope the rest of the work in this short season can match it.
Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image: Farrows Creative