ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The Ugly One
The Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge
The play's construction is very challenging for the cast and director — and at times, challenging for the audience. Three of the four actors take on multiple roles with no change of costume or makeup or even name. Only the content of their speeches gives us a clue as to who is speaking. Although The Ugly One is only 55 minutes long, you will need every inch of your concentration, but this kind of theatre fully warrants the effort.
The plot: Lette works for Scheffler (Mark Lockyer) and finds that Karlmann (Frank McCusker) has been selected to give the presentation at a convention. Scheffler gives Lette the hard message that this is because he is too ugly. Lette consults his wife Fanny (Amanda Drew) who tells him that he really is ugly. It seems that Lette was oblivious to his lack of beauty. Lette consults a surgeon Scheffler (Mark Lockyer) and has an operation which turns him into a very beautiful man. Now Lette finds that not only must he present his invention, he is also expected to humour a 73 old investor Fanny (Amanda Drew) as her sexual plaything. This Fanny, a veteran of the aesthetic surgeon's knife and probably addicted to this, has a son Karlmann. When Lette has his face changed, other things change in his life too. Women throw themselves at him sexually. However, who is it who owns Lette's new face? Is it Lette or Scheffler the surgeon? When clones of Lette's new face start appearing in town, it gets complicated.
The set is the first example I have seen of complete post modern theatre staging. The lighting designer sits at the side of the stage with laptop in view. The chairs onstage are the same as those the audience sits on, the floor is chalked out stripped back to a pre-production condition, and to the rear is a clothes rack of costumes which will never be worn. A gantry is onstage. This set in its unfinished state makes no concession to appearance. When Lette is operated on, the surgeon's back is to the audience shielding the patient from view but the sounds of the operation are there— the drill, the slap into place, the shouted instructions from the surgeon. I recoiled.
The cast are stellar actors. I'm a huge fan of Mark Lockyer, going back to when he thrilled my children with his Christmas plays at Greenwich when he played Rupert of Henzau in The Prisoner of Zenda. He's a comic genius; his timing and small detailed actions are brilliant. A tiny shrug or a throw away line will have the audience in stitches, but thankfully not of the post operative kind. He excels as the egotistical Schefflers, one the company boss, the other the arrogant, but slickly persuasive, specialist surgeon.
Michael Gould is the hapless Lette. The playwright makes it clear that there will be no concession to appearance. Lette is not to wear ugly makeup. He must not change after the operation except that I think he combs his hair when the bandages (a plastic bag) come off. It is Gould's acting alone which conveys the fresh faced, new found beauty. Lette is a man blown around by events rather than one controlling them. This is expressed in the first scenes when Lette sits in an office chair, wheeling over to talk to different characters, switching between them.
Amanda Drew plays three characters called Fanny, Lette's loving wife, the man eating rich woman and assistant to Scheffler the surgeon. In conversation with Lette, she has to switch from shock at the discovery that her husband has become "un homme fatal" to Fanny his 73 year old mistress, while sitting in the same chair. This is no mean feat! Frank McCusker's underplayed, calm Karlmanns seem to overlap not just with each other but ultimately with Lette as the look impinges on their identity.
The Ugly One is the kind of theatre which engages at every level. The issues will be discussed for days. Is it possible to divorce ourselves from our looks? Will people always judge by looks? Is surgery to change what we look like a good idea? Will this change us in other ways? Do people only get on in business if they look good? How much of what is the essential us is to do with our appearance? As theatre Marius von Mayenburg's latest play with its sharp, jabbing prose is as stimulating as it is relevant and a must see.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.