The last of the "Body Image Trilogy" to make it to London (the others being The Shape of Things
and Fat Pig
,) Reasons to be Pretty
shows in some ways a less abrasive side to Neil LaBute. The playwright himself says this play's protagonist is the first real "adult" lead he's written. Greg (Tom Burke) certainly reacts more maturely than you might expect to an unexpected situation: When he makes a comment to his friend Kent along the lines that even if his girlfriend Steph is more average-looking, he finds her more attractive that some conventionally pretty girl, Kent's wife Carly overhears. She passes the information on to Steph, the word "ugly" gets in there somewhere along the way, and Steph freaks out, dumping Greg.
Siân Brooke strikes me as a bit too pretty to play the neurotically image-obsessed Steph but apart from that is good in a fairly over-the-top part, a character whose extreme reactions are hard to understand until the ending tidies things up a bit. If Greg is uncharacteristically mature, there's still a trademark LaBute asshole in Kent (Kieran Bew,) the immature, bullying old friend married to dim security guard Carly (Billie Piper, playing a pregnant character and taking method acting a bit far by getting knocked up for real.) If some things are different, the playwright's reputation for misogyny won't be changed by Reasons to be Pretty
- there's two good roles for women but one is liable to unpredictable histrionics, the other a textbook dumb blonde. Though all four actors are good it's really Burke's show, appearing as he does in every scene and getting most of the funniest lines, and he's impressive as a character often lost among people's unexpected reactions but steadily trying to get through his life. Soutra Gilmour's set cleverly uses the idea of a rusted shipping container containing various locations although the bulky design means some of the set changes are very slow (and all soundtracked by Queen for reasons we couldn't quite figure out.) Well-written and performed, this may not be as hard-hitting as we're used to from this playwright but it's an entertaining and mature work.Reasons to be Pretty
by Neil LaBute is booking until the 14th of January at the Almeida Theatre.