27 May 2010
The MTC Theatre, Lawler
What would you do if you were told you were ugly? Not homely or plain or "not my type", but so unacceptably ugly that even your beloved can only look at your left eye.
Marius von Mayenburg's The Ugly One is far more than a deliciously dark glance at superficiality, but draws its audience close with the shared fear of being rejected for our exterior. Who hasn't glanced in a mirror wishing that the face/body/clothes of someone else would wink back? No matter how much we know that real beauty is on the inside, we don't want to be ugly.
Lette (Patrick Brammel) had no idea that he was ugly, until his boss, Scheffler (Kim Gyngell), wants to send the hotter Karlmann (Luke Ryan) to a conference and Lette's wife, Fanny (Alison Bell), confesses that she always admired her husband for coping so well with his ugliness. Now knowing he is socially unacceptable, Lette finds help from surgeon Scheffler and is transformed into a total spunk rat. Business for the good looking can only get better and new friends like wealthy surgery addict Fanny and her son Karlmann offer new paths. Until everyone wants to look like Lette, and surgeon Scheffler owns the template.
Berlin-based von Mayenburg's work was last seen here in 2008 in Moving Target, directed by Benedict Andrews. Mayenburg's style joyfully exploits all that is unique about theatre and gives its creative team the freedom to inject their own staging solutions. From Moliere to McNamara, director Peter Evans lets his playwright's voices lead, yet the The Ugly One doesn't allow for an uninstrusive director; and it's a welcome surprise to see a sense of Evan's own style and choices.
The in the round stage contains office chairs, a microphone and buckets filled with crunchy, dribbly apples that provide a gruesome soundscape for the surgery. The couldn't-be-better cast morph between same-named characters as sharply as the surgeon's knife and the moments of doubt in between provide an unexpected rhythm to the text – and even more laughs.
Like recent gems Moth (Malthouse/Arena) and That Face (Red Stitch) and even MTCs Richard III (that didn't tickle me under the chin and make me smile), getting a ticket to The Ugly One is a challenge, but extra 9.30pm shows have been added so you don't have to miss out.
This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.