reasons to be pretty
by Neil LaBute.
Almeida Theatre Almeida Street Islington N1 1TA To 14 January 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 4, 11 Jan 2.30pm.
Audio-described 7 Jan 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 20 Dec.
Runs: 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7359 4404.
Review Carole Woddis 17 November.
Going soft on appearances.
Neil LaBute’s reputation goes before him as the writer of such works as The Shape of Things and the film In the Company of Men. His sometimes brutal take on young, contemporary American men and women can be incendiary. So it’s a surprise to find him in a mellower mode. It may his most adult comedy of manners to date, a fact he doesn’t refrain from alluding to in the theatre programme that contains quotes from John Berger, Nathaniel Hawthorne and references to Velázquez no less.
reasons to be pretty is the third in a trio of plays relating to appearance, The Shape of Things and Fat Pig having gone before.
In an age when the pressure on young women to conform to some notional fantasy of what constitutes beauty has never been more excruciatingly unrealistic, LaBute’s latest exploration is timely if unusually sentimental. For all that, it’s one of his most appealing plays in Michael Attenborough’s clever, foot-stomping production.
A four-hander, the action revolves around a report that a young factory worker, Greg, described his girlfriend Steph to his jock best friend as “ugly”. In fact, he compared her to a new office arrival as maybe having only “regular” features but ones he wouldn’t trade for “a million bucks”.
Misunderstanding piles on misunderstanding; loyalties are strained to the limit. But whilst poor Steph is portrayed as turned neurotic overnight, Greg emerges as hero. Laconic, witty and an initially loyal mate, ultimately he becomes a brave upholder of female honour, a latter day Don Quixote. Tom Burke makes Greg irresistible, if slippery with it.
Playing with perceptions of beauty and how we are perceived by others, with education (or lack of it), more than anything, reasons to be pretty is another, if softer, LaButian study in men behaving badly, this time in the blue-collar territory, that carries a clear moral lesson. Steph and Greg both emerge older and wiser.
Billie Piper, I should add, is a revelation as Carly, Kent’s none too bright blonde female security-guard girlfriend, both subtle and moving. A triumph, against the odds.
Greg: Tom Burke.
Steph: Siân Brooke.
Kent: Kieran Bew.
Carly: Billie Piper.
Director: Michael Attenborough.
Design: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Dialect: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Natasha Nixon.
The British Premiere of reasons to be pretty opened at the Almeida on 10 November 2011.