Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 29th October 2019
“Ugly does not shy away from a plethora of difficult topics and this is to be admired”
Ugly, written by Perdita Stott and directed by Danae Cambrook, explores the notion of beauty and ugliness – from being ‘conventionally attractive’ to the ugly words that children throw at each other on the playground. The play is made up of several vignettes of the lives and experiences of different people. They are primarily women but there is also some brief consideration of societal pressures on feminine and homosexual men. The audience follows these people through their everyday lives – working out at the gym, attending social events, navigating school life etc. – in an effort to understand the dangerous fostering of self-loathing that seems almost inevitable in our image-obsessed society.
Five women make up the cast of Ugly: Eve Atkinson, Shereener Browne, Samantha Bingley, Hannah Marie Davis and Orla Sanders. The quintet works well together, and they all move effortlessly between their different characters. Five actors are more than enough for this production and at times the stage did feel quite crowded.
Shereener and Bingley are particularly strong, and the latter has some wonderfully emotive scenes as a little girl desperately trying to gain the approval of her overbearing mother. Bingley also lends her voice to some impressive solos which play on the idea of the perfect Disney princess.
However, some more variety in the cast would be appreciated such as a ‘masculine’ woman, a lesbian or another person of colour. As a black woman, Shereener explores the effect that the lack of representation in the media can have on a young child. These scenes were some of the play’s strongest and it would have been an interesting to have perhaps had some scenes where an Asian woman considers the frequent fetishisation of her race and its relation to feeling desirable.
The performance starts off a bit slow, but the cast seem to find their feet by the second half. A nice thread throughout the play is the five women stating how old they were when they first thought they were ugly. The ages are tragically low, ranging from ranges from six to ten. It is nice that a more obviously personal element is included in the production as it is not always clear what other monologues are based on reality.
There are also several moments throughout the performance where the production seems to be drawing to a close which makes its continuation slightly jarring. The finality in which some conclusions and advice are delivered cause some disjointedness. Ugly is highly ambitious in its subject matter but it is too much for its hour running time.
The set consists of a few chairs and low tables peppered with fashion magazines and candles. There is not much need for anything more elaborate than this. Props are used well especially a set of aprons which double as both towels to wipe away sweat after a workout and a feature in a repeated dance sequence that separates scenes. There is some strong choreography (Nadine Chui) elsewhere in the performance, most notably, a ballet dance by Davis.
Ugly does not shy away from a plethora of difficult topics and this is to be admired. However, some more exploration of lesser considered issues and a homing in on key messages would go a long way in elevating this production.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Tristan Bates Theatre until 2nd November
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