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Written by Marius von Mayenburg; translated by Maja Zada
Directed by Giles Burton
A scalpel sharp, absurd comic fantasy about beauty.
Lette thinks he is normal, but when he discovers that he is, in fact, unbelievably ugly he turns to a plastic surgeon for help. Suddenly he is the most beautiful man in the world. Fame and riches follow; women want to sleep with him and men want to look like him. And with surgery they can look like him. Exactly like him.
CHRISTOPHER BROUGHAM – LETTE
TODD RIPPON – SCHEFFLER
LYNDEE_JANE RUTHERFORD – FANNY
PAUL WAGGOTT – KARLMANN
POPPY SERANO – SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER
LIGHTING DESIGNER: GILES BURTON
TECHNICAL OPERATOR / STAGE MANAGER: DEB MCGUIRE
PUBLICITY: ACUSHLA_TARA SUTTON
GRAPHIC DESIGN & PHOTOGRAPHY: TABITHA ARTHUR
HOUSE MANAGER: SUZANNE BLACKBURN
BOX OFFICE MANAGER: LINDA WILSON
|A MINIMALIST BEAUTY|
Reviewed by John Smythe, 13 Jul 2015
As The Beautiful Ones plays their final performance in Circa One, The Ugly One opens in Circa Two.
Adonis, Narcissus, Dorian Gray, Rocky (of the Horror Show, not the boxer), George Clooney … The myths of the impossibly good-looking man and his grotesque converse – the monster made by Victor Frankenstein (the modern Prometheus); before that, the Beauty and the Beast folk tale – have been with us forever.
German playwright Marius von Mayenburg tapped into the vanity vein in 2007 with The Ugly One, translated into English by Maja Zade and now directed for Circa Theatre by Giles Burton.
Lette, an engineer, has designed a breakthrough component and assumes he will present it to a conference until he is told he’s too ugly. His boss, Scheffler, wife, Fanny and colleague, Karlman have always known but this is news to Lette. He turns to surgeon Scheffler with nurse Fanny to remedy the situation and the result surpasses all expectations. Everything changes, not least in his marital relationship with Fanny and dealings with the septuagenarian CEO of a client corporation, Fanny, and her son, Karlman. Then everything changes again.
You see what’s happening here? Austerity is the word that leaps to mind. The Ugly One distils minimalism to a whole new level. There’s nothing new in four actors playing eight characters, of course, or staging the plays with no set or costume changes. But keeping the same names and voices, and sliding into different characters and settings without missing a beat, brings simplicity to a whole new level.
Yet because the actors know who they are, and where and why, at each given moment, we in the audience have no trouble keeping up. In fact giving us that little puzzle to solve every few moments increases our level of engagement.
I’m told the script just runs the dialogue against the four character names. The director (who had seen a production overseas so knew how it worked) and cast had to work out for themselves who they were being and were they were on each line. I guess that increased their level of engagement too.
Of course Christopher Brougham, who plays Lette, is a perfectly fine looking man. So is Paul Waggott (Karlmann). If anything it is Todd Rippon, who plays the superciliously judgemental Schleffer, and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, who plays the lovingly patronising Fanny, who have the more idiosyncratic physiognomies, and this adds extra bite to the social satire.
What they all have is finely tuned comic sensibilities that keep the play humming along without overstating it. Minimalism is the order-of-the-day here too.
Brougham’s Lette is a symphony of vulnerability rising to a steady crescendo of arrogance. Rutherford’s Fanny is lyrical in painstaking love, bluntly percussive as the nurse and she thrills to the throes of lust.
As Karlmann, Waggott croons his collegial concerns and counterpoints with the anxieties of Fanny’s son-with-mother-issues. Rippon has a melodious air as the boss-man Schleffer which wavers only slightly as he reveals his inexperience as a surgeon.
Set and costume designer Poppy Serano dresses all four actors in grey suits and the largely bare stage with two long beige padded benches on either side. An executive chair and equipment trolley are wheeled in for the procedures. The only flash of colour is a mandarin.
All attention, therefore, is focused on the ‘argument’: the incisive commentary on a ‘looksist’ culture in a supply-and-demand economy. In short, The Ugly One is a little beauty.
Received around the world to great acclaim, The Ugly One now receives its NZ premiere. With writer von Mayenburg’s star very much in the ascendant, this show is a must see.
“A stripped bare satire on the nature of beauty. If you are interested in theatrical story-telling see this show.” – The Times (UK)
“Savage social satire … A small but perfectly formed play” – The Guardian (UK)
“The concept is simple but the philosophical implications are profound: What if money could buy the perfect face? It’s The Elephant Man meets The Matrix” – Post City (Toronto)