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A CurtainUp London Review
Reasons to be Pretty
The play opens with a major argument between Greg (Tom Burke) and his live in girlfriend Steph (Siân Brooke). It seems that Steph has been told by Carly (Billie Piper) what she overheard Greg say about Steph when talking to his workmate Kent (Kieran Bew). For several minutes Greg refuses to discuss what he said or denies that it happened at all while Steph gets angrier and angrier and says many things she will come to regret. This scene is funny and painful at the same time as we watch the disintegration of a once happy relationship.
At his job in a supermarket warehouse, we see Greg working at night, having his lunch break in the middle of the night with the macho Kent, whose girlfriend is pregnant, but who talks incessantly about the body beautiful of another girl they work with. It is the kind of conversation that would have feminists walking out of the theatre were it not that we know LaBute is exposing this behaviour not commending it. I found myself asking whether men really do talk to each other like this? Greg and Steph meet to tie up the loose ends and Steph delivers a diatribe of Greg’s shortcomings. It is the full emasculating, hatchet job from an articulate woman.
In Act Two Greg bumps into Steph and she is conciliatory but Greg is as evasive as ever. He is asked by Carly if he knows anything about Kent cheating on her and he reassures her that Kent is not. The two men clash in a physical fight before the work baseball match in a caustic scene of Kent, the American Jock who sees sexual relations as an extension of competitive sport versus the altogether more likable Greg. “Beautiful women are like athletes – a couple of good years and then the knees go,” says Kent.
The performances are well balanced and convincing. Both men are unable to commit, the contemptible Kent because of his all consuming sexual drive, Greg because he hasn’t yet found a direction for his life, reading high brow novels during his lunch hour. Greg may be the all round nice guy but he never has the courage to ask Kent to reflect on his deceit.
Tom Burke injects an attractive humour into his scenes and Kieran Bew again shows his versatility after taking all the male roles in Knot of the Heart. Both women are unfulfilled, Carly pregnant and married to a cheat and Steph settling for someone for whom she has no real feelings. Billie Piper’s character, the security guard losing her figure with the advance of pregnancy, we eventually feel sorry for but it is her interference that starts the problem. Siân Brooke lets us see Steph’s vulnerability and insecurity.
Michael Attenborough’s direction is subtle and smooth helped by Soutra Gilmour’s magnificent trailer set which pivots to reveal various locations from Greg’s bedroom, to the works lunch room, to a mall cafe, to a smart restaurant, to the baseball scene.
For Elyse Sommer’s reviews of Reasons to be Pretty in New York, go here .
In the interval I was surrounded by male critics saying Siân Brooke was too pretty to play this part of the girl described by her boyfriend as “regular.” How interesting that they, known for their wit rather than their beauty, should fall into LaBute’s carefully laid trap!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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