BWW Review: THE UGLY ONE, Park Theatre
What is the purpose of life? Is it to climb to the top? In theory, a person's success should be a product of their hard work, talent and ambition.
But Marius Von Mayenburg's play, originally debuting 10 years ago at the Royal Court, explores what happens when ambition isn't enough - when your ability to do your job is put into question, simply because you don't meet a society's rigid beauty standards. This translation by Maja Zade maintains the insightful comedy, confronting the audience with razor-sharp satire.
Protagonist Lette is so ugly that his firm has banned him from promoting his latest industrial invention, preferring colleague Karlmann to do sales presentations instead. Lette is transformed into an Adonis by a plastic surgeon, delighting his boss and wife, but soon faces unexpected consequences, including romantic pursuit by both an elderly client and her son, and the surgeon repeating the operation to create a world of Lette lookalikes.
An electric entrance from all four performers, who form a tight-knit ensemble, lets you know you're in safe hands. The cast impressively and playfully switch roles, adeptly handling speedy scene changes.
Recent Moutview graduate Arian Nik makes a promising stage debut as Karlmann, while Indra Ové's Fanny is a standout. Ové is sarcastic, charming and through her swift delivery allows the audience to enjoy the humour with her. It seems like everyone is having so much fun, and at various points throughout the show the only thing audible is raucous laughter erupting from the space.
However, the production doesn't quite make clear how we should respond to the oft-ridiculed Lette. As Charlie Dorfman doesn't show much of a vulnerable side to the character early on, it's difficult to sympathise with his situation later in the play, resulting in a somewhat one-dimensional portrayal. More of a tailored focus on Lette's inner struggle would make for a richer reading.
Otherwise, the direction from Roy Alexander Weise, 2016 winner of the James Menzies-Kitchin Award, is precise in how it mines the script for smart humour. A particular highlight is in the scene where Lette goes for surgery. Going under the knife is brought to life through a microphone being positioned to pick up the sounds of different pieces of fruit being mutilated, representing Lette's body parts. A straw in water acts as a suction, and a blender gives the effect of a cutter, making the whole sequence queasily visceral.
The Ugly One is a definite success, with genuine performances complemented by superb direction and Loren Elstein's design providing a gateway for clever technical elements. It poses important questions too: how much are we a product of our society, and how do we obtain self-appreciation in a world that attempts to tell us how to act and look? Trends change, but the damage those opinions make can have a long-lasting impact on the recipients of them.
The Ugly One at Park Theatre until 24 June