The Ugly One at Park Theatre
At the heart of German playwright Marius Von Mayenburg’s black comedy is the question of how far our sense of self is bound up with our appearance – and what happens when this is altered. But although the premise is an intriguing one, the play doesn’t quite deliver.
When talented engineer Lette discovers that his company doesn’t want him to present his latest invention at an upcoming convention, he’s incredulous. Questioning their reasoning, he discovers that it’s because of his hideous appearance. Even his wife admits that she can only bear to look at him in one of his eyes – and not his whole face. The opening is actually very funny and the wittiest lines are served up here. In particular, Charlie Dorfman has a real talent for comedy. He portrays Lette’s dawning realisation at his own ugliness with a hilarious wide-eyed expressiveness.
The set, designed by Loren Elstein, is also interesting. The action plays out in the round with a huge rectangular table at the centre; it’s an office desk, an operating table, a club stage and more. A virtual element to the set is meant to highlight how our society’s obsession with image is magnified by social media. But this could have been exploited further to locate the piece more obviously in the present day.
As Lette goes under the knife in search of beauty, the play enters fertile existential territory and touches upon the cult of celebrity, identity in the age of surgical enhancement, and ideals of physical perfection. Unfortunately, though, these ideas get lost in the increasingly farcical plot (featuring a seventy-something with an insatiable appetite in the bedroom, and an incestuous love triangle) and the jokes begin to lose their bite.
Despite the play’s shortcomings, the four-strong cast fizz with energy throughout. And there are moments of striking originality under Roy Alexander Weise’s direction: the surgeon’s table scene complete with fruit, microphone and pulpy sound effects is inspired. It’s a shame that the whole 55 minutes couldn’t have been this good.
The Ugly One is at Park Theatre from 1st until 24th June 2017, for further information or to book visit here.