Review | Ugly, Tristan Bates Theatre ⋆⋆⋆

In ‘Ugly’, five female actresses perform a series of short monologues. In each scene, the actresses take it in turn to embody a different character, from a woman who tries to perfect her smile in the mirror, to a young girl who is told that she’s ugly on the inside, right after a guy has finished fingering her. As each actress takes centre stage, under the creative direction of Danae Cambrook, the rest of ensemble will animate each scene in some way.

Written by Perdita Stott, this piece is a straightforward presentation of the various thoughts which women can wrestle with when it comes to perceptions of beauty. At times, it paints a picture of a cohort of women who are self-obsessed and consumed with appearances and little else. But in other more revelatory moments, it touches on the complications of modern day beauty standards with piercing insight and honesty.

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In one of the more memorable scenes, a young son portrayed by a faceless puppet, wants to experiment with nail varnish, yet the mother (characterised by Hannah Marie Davis) is keen to discourage this. Here we see the mother project her version of what it means to be normal onto her child. Although the mother wants her child to feel comfortable, she worries that kids at school can be cruel and so she’s only happy for him to be himself when in private. We see that the mother’s protective nature contributes to the wider societal problem of instilling children with a sense of what is and isn’t ‘right’ when it comes to appearances.

In a later scene, Davis plays the role of a dancer and delivers a monologue whilst perfecting the steps in a dance routine with grace. She explains how despite the level of scrutiny that her body might receive whilst performing, she knows that it is her soul which drives each performance and in those moments, little else matters. She explains “I can show with my body in this fleeting moment, that beauty transcends this shell”.

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Unfortunately overall breadth has been favoured over a satisfactory level of depth in this play. During the show’s hour running time, there are a lot of ideas to convey the degree to which thoughts of beauty can occupy the female mind. However as we transition through each monologue, there’s a feeling that there’s much more to unpack within a certain idea before we move on for it to have a meaningful and lasting impact.

During the finale, Lizzo’s ‘Good as Hell’ is played, an anthem all about self-love. Although it doesn’t feel like we’ve been on much of a journey to arrive at this message, nonetheless it’s a fitting note to end on.

Ugly is running at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 2 November 2019 at the time of writing.

Cast: Eve Atkinson; Shereener Browne; Samantha Bingley; Hannah Marie Davis and Orla Sanders

Creatives: Director – Danae Cambrook; Writer – Perdita Stott, Composer – Bobby Locke; Choreographer – Nadine Chui; and Lighting and Sound – Julian Pichelski.

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