nick730 (nick730) wrote,
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Theatre review: The Ugly One

My usual disclaimer: This is a review of a preview performance (in fact the first preview in the current space) so this production has not yet been shown to professional reviewers and details may change before then.

Having said that, almost the same cast performed this last year in the smaller Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, and the current cast have already performed this in Poland. The only new cast member, Simon Paisley Day, needed to be prompted early on, but considering the staging I'm not convinced this wasn't deliberate. The Ugly One is a very short (just under an hour,) very funny play by Marius von Mayenburg in a snappy translation by Maja Zade, in which Lette (Michael Gould) discovers late in life that he's horrifically ugly. Nobody's actually told him before because they assumed it was blatantly obvious, but he hadn't realised. His wife Fanny (Amanda Drew) married him for his personality, and it's only after he realises how ugly he is that Lette realises she always avoids looking him directly in the face. A visit to a plastic surgeon (Paisley Day) makes Lette handsome and turns his life around, but things start to go wrong when everyone envies Lette's new face and he discovers the surgeon has been turning out numerous clones and his wife, who previously loved him for himself, has been indiscriminately sleeping with men with "the face" because it makes no real difference.

The actors are all excellent in Ramin Gray's frenetic production, and the snappy dialogue gets a lot of laughs. As part of the theme of identity blurring, all the actors bar Gould play multiple characters, all with the same names, and all overlapping, sometimes mid-scene. Frank McCusker plays both Lette's assistant, and the son of a 70-year-old woman he's having an affair with - and both McCusker's characters opt at some point to have the surgery to copy Lette's face. So von Mayenburg is giving us a headfuck of identity, which is added to by the staging: Not only is there no set, with the bare stage visible behind the actors on benches and a single office chair, but when the audience enters the actors are onstage as themselves, chatting to the stage management team, one of whom stays onstage throughout the performance with a promptbook. The actors and crew wave to people they know in the audience and Gould even enters through the auditorium, throwing a backpack to one side before climbing onstage. When the stage lights go on (the house lights stay up throughout) they go straight into character, giving the performance the feel of a rehearsed reading or even a rehearsal, again messing with the sense of identity.

This being the first preview increases the feeling that the audience is being fucked with and that the formal reviews will describe a traditionally staged production. The programme lists a Sound Designer despite there not being a single piece of music or recorded sound effect. The Lighting Designer presumably had five minutes' work setting up the single LX cue (lights on.) Luckily this doesn't come across as particularly gimmicky, and the most important part is that this black comedy is really funny.

(I filled in the box that says what music's playing 'cause I thought it was pretty ironic what song iTunes randomly played while I was writing this review.)

The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg in a translation by Maja Zade is booking until the 28th of June at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.
Tags: theatre
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