Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review The Ugly One

Tim Gopsill finds a satire on identity and the body beautiful catches a zeitgeist but fails to fulfil its full potential.
The Ugly One
by Marius von Mayenberg

Face Value

Marius von Mayenberg's 2007 black comedy is resonant in our age of selfies and self-branding,  revolving round the conceit anything can now be replicated  and mass produced.

In fact this German satire centres on a solo main premise and joke and, luckily, it is a clever one, even if there is a clunkiness about the accompanying gags and plot development.

When Lette (Charlie Dorfman), a brilliant electronics engineer, is considered by his bosses too ugly to promote his own invention, his assistant Karlmann (Arian Nik impressive in his debut professional role) gets the job and accompanying perks.

Lette then opts for what he assumes is an exclusive solution, plastic surgery turning him into the acknowledged most handsome man in the world and giving him back the gig for which he was originally so unceremoniously turned down.

However  he doesn't foresee the plastic surgeon (T'nia Miller) capitalising on the success of the brand she has created out of him and profiting from mass production, effectively making Lette obsolete.

His assistant and subsequent rival Karlmann emerges with an indentikit face. The two even end up competing for two women, Lette's wife Fanny and a businesswoman (both played by Indra Ové).  

The female roles involve a good deal of squirming and slinking about in a seductive fashion  at which, it must be said, Ové excels.

Lette's spouse Fanny gets most of the really corny laughs. As Lette’s invention is some kind of hardware plug, Fanny, in her seductive passages,  has so many cringeworthy gags about plugs, sockets and the like that it all skirts dangerously near to the tiresome.

Director Weise's and designer Loren Elstein’s staging is ingenious, using the Park 90. the smaller studio space, filling it with a square rostrum functioning as work desk, table and bed.

Meanwhile the floor space is also a projection screen (projection designer Louise Rhoades-Brown).

Weise has plenty of boisterous comic physicality in his production, but his direction also lacks a light touch.

The play deals with such an abstract issue in Maja Zade's translation, greater subtlety and a tad more whimsy in both the acting and the direction would have been welcome. Instead everything  feels rather signposted and heavy-handed.

The plot eventually takes its narcissistic logic to the extreme and this certainly is a play with an intriguing premise. It's energetically directed and acted by Weise and its four-strong cast with lighting by Amy Mae and sound by Giles Thomas.

However it needs more nuance, along with much sharper, pacier timing, to make the satire really sting and The Ugly One therefore gets an amber light.

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