The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg opens at Park Theatre, directed by Roy Alexander Weise, winner of the JMK Award. The German playwright has had his work translated into over 30 languages and performed worldwide. The Ugly One debuted in London at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007 to rave reviews.
The play is a black comedy that looks at our obsession with looks and how we define beauty and ugliness. Lette is a scientist who has invented a ground-breaking new kind of plug. His boss won’t allow him to go to a sales conference to present his creation and Lette wants to know why. His confused boss becomes the one to break it to Lette that he is “unspeakably ugly”. This sends Lette to his wife to ask her if this is true and we discover that she cannot look him in the face. Understandably shocked by this revelation, Lette seeks out a plastic surgeon to ‘fix’ his face. The procedure leaves him with the face of a Greek God and his life is transformed along with those around him.
The cast of four play seven roles with no costume changes. While this could be confusing, they manage to present their character changes with skill; particularly Indra Ové who switches between Lette’s wife and lover in a split second over multiple scenes, leaving us in no doubt who she is at all times. Charlie Dorfman is the only actor who stays in character throughout. He plays Lette with great skill as he moves from ugly to beautiful and navigates the challenges that he meets. T’Nia Miller plays Lette’s boss who has to break the news of his ugliness to him as well as the surgeon who transforms his face in a squeamish scene where fruit is put under the scalpel. Arian Nik makes an impressive stage debut as Lette’s colleague and the gay son of Lette’s older lover, also obsessed with his beauty.
The play is performed in the round and makes clever use of top projection onto the stage. The cast spend much of the time in the performance space, sitting among the audience and engaging with them.
The Ugly One was first performed in 2007, the same year that the first iPhone was released and Tumblr was launched. Ten years later we live in a world where 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day and the obsession with looks and beauty is far more public.
This play addresses some interesting themes and makes the audience think about our own judgements of people but I felt some issues were left unexplored. I wanted to understand better Lette’s wife’s reasons for marrying this “unspeakably ugly” man and how Lette managed to reach middle age without realising his ugliness. This production felt quite long at 90 minutes where the Royal Court production in 2007 ran at just under an hour.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
The Ugly One plays at the Park Theatre until 24 June 2017