Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: The Ugly One at The Wardrobe Theatre Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

Marus Von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One, is being performed at The Wardrobe Theatre this week as part of BOTVS’ Summer Festival.

It’s a black comedy with sharp wit and a growing sensation of claustrophobic intensity behind the humour of the inescapable situation.

Socially awkward Lette doesn’t realise that everyone considers him hideously ugly. That is until he is passed over on a work sales trip to present his own invention to investors. His boss think he’s ugly, his co-workers think he’s ugly, his wife loves him – but even she thinks he’s ugly. It calls into question everything Lette thought he knew about himself and the world around him.

The injustice of a more junior colleague whose smug face is not ‘unacceptable’ sees Lette turns to a plastic surgeon In despair, to make him look better.

The surgery has the unfortunate effect of making him look so beautiful that everyone wants a piece of him. His marriage suffers as women line up to be with him – including a 73 year old investor and her son. He is pressured by his boss into having sex to increase sales. And, his work suffers, meaning that when his face no longer fits, he is left with no job.

Vyshnavi Krishnan’s design perfectly compliments the metamorphosis from everyday person to overnight Influencer sensation.

The white photography styled backdrops with freestanding lighting, instantly transforms the stage into couture vibes, with Lette’s face being the high fashion. The work so expertly stitched that the only telltale signs are small scars behind his ears.

But as with fast fashion and influence, it doesn’t remain unique for long. His success overshadowing everyone else soon sees men lining up at the plastic surgeon’s door to look as beautiful as Lette. Until everyone looks like Lette.

Of course, his success means that his previously more aesthetically pleasing coworkers are no longer so, becoming literal carbon copies of Lette, doomed to repeat the copy paste pattern. Events once again replaying in a horror loop.

Sumāh Ebelé’s magnetic plastic surgeon sees themselves as an artist. A sculptor. Although there’s the dissonance between the artist at work with the motivation of richness, as Lette’s face is unveiled like the latest iPhone. Anyone with the money to do so can afford to look just like Lette.

The physical surgery scenes are enhanced with Kate Cartwright’s audience appreciated sound effects into a mic, the coarseness and violence of the procedure contrasting to Ebelé’s dulcet tones.

The satire, feels like a modern day cautionary fairy tale for right now. A fairy tale not just about identity and beauty and how you look which affects how you get ahead. But, also the manipulation of more vulnerable people in a savage social media Insta world.

Christopher Williams shows his range through Lette’s transformation, which comes through the Clark Kent effect, soaring self confidence and metamorphosis into an egotistical monster. What the audience knows is that there was nothing wrong with Lette’s face in the first place.

Kerr Louden’s comedic precision as Karlmann delights the audience as both smug colleague and the gay son of a ‘dominant mother’.

There’s a lot of action packed into an hour of play, but Natalie Simone has a strong handle on the pace and direction, with actors beautifully blurring from one character to another in graceful dreamlike transitions you barely notice are happening.

Marus Von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One, is an astute choice for 2023, with media, celebrity and personality continuing to grow. The superstars rising and falling even harder is a real-life horror loop constantly engorged on public opinion as it continues to replicates its cycle.

The Ugly One is on at The Wardrobe Theatre on 09 and 10 June 2023. It’s a thought provoking piece of work from an expert team of cast and creatives, which gives you pause on that news feed scroll

Fanny – Kate Cartwright
Scheffler – Sumāh Ebelé
Karlmann – Kerr Louden
Lette – Christopher Williams

Written by Marus Von Mayenburg
Directed by Natalie Simone
Designed by Vyshnavi Krishnan
YouTube Shorts

Bristol Theatre News at Backstage Bristol contact us through email or social media