The Ugly One
Marius Von Mayenburg
Buckland Theatre Company in association with Park Theatre
Buckland Theatre Company’s production of The Ugly One is a gentle satire on the conformist superficiality of popular definitions of what counts as beauty. It is entertaining, amusing, well performed and imaginatively staged.
Unfortunately, its satiric point is superficial and quickly made, its humour limited. What could have been a good twenty-minute sketch is overextended at a running time of eighty-five minutes.
The character Lette (Charlie Dorfman) is taken aback when his boss tells him he cannot present his own invention at a conference because his face is too ugly. He is further concerned when his wife admits that he looks “unspeakably ugly”.
Plastic surgery gives him a new face that makes him the company’s star presenter and the desired object of a 72-year-old executive and her son. Before long, he has the choice of some twenty-six women a night.
The face is so successful, the surgeon decides to market it and, in a world where decisions are made on superficial good looks, partners are swapped and even mothers can have sexual encounters with their sons.
Four actors switch instantly from one part to another, emphasising the surreal impact of this superficial conformity. Charlie Dorfman gives a good performance as Lette, at first bemused but increasingly disorientated by what is happening.
The set dominated by what looks like a huge cumbersome table imaginatively becomes a video screen, a surgeon's operating table, a performance stage and just occasionally a boardroom table.
The dialogue is gently comic, the slight characterisation secondary to its mild satiric point, and the lack of any depth increasingly tiring.
Of course beauty and what we like about people is a social construction but its definition isn’t simply defined by a popular conformity. Those with power will shape it to their interests. That is why in the age of imperialism and much of the past, the western account of beauty was incredibly white.
When the defeated Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman feels bad about not being liked, his friend Charley says, “who liked J P Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked.”
The Ugly One will make you smile. It may even make you laugh. But you might wish it was shorter and had something more substantial to say.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna