Reasons To Be Pretty
As a long time fan of Neil LaBute’s work, who is well known for his plays (and film) The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, I was keen to see Square Peg Productions' offering of the final in this ‘accidental’ trilogy, Reasons to be Pretty, at Theatreworks. And this performance did not disappoint.
VCA Postgraduate Diploma in Directing alumnus Eddy Segal has taken this challenging and edgy script and made it smooth slowing, gutsy and memorable. The opening radio / TV promo about diets and exercise equipment allowed the audience to settle into the world of beauty and all it preoccupations before hitting us in the face with a firecracker of an opening scene. Greg (Paul Denny) and Steph (Rebecca Denny) are in the throes of an explosive argument after Steph has found out Greg confessed to workmate Kent (Johnny McNamara) that he thought his partner’s face was ‘just regular’.
It’s all downhill for this couple as we witness their slowly disintegrating union, and how they receive support (or lack of it) from sleazy co-worker Kent and his meddlesome security officer wife Carly (Eleanor Howlett). Staging this piece in a three-quarter round was well thought out, and the staging took all views into account most of the time. Paul Denny had an incredibly strong stage presence; deflecting the barrage of abuse with humour and pauses to temper the rhythm when required. He is at once likeable and annoying all at the same time, and something that is hard to genuinely achieve, but was possible here with his abilities. His character’s preference for reading Poe, Hawthorne, and Swift during breaks at work was subtly funny, whilst the scenes with his mate Kent showed the ‘boys’ attitude that pervades when women are not around.
Rebecca Denny was a natural delight to watch; her comic timing was spot on and effectively used any manner of weapons – spatulas included – to berate her boyfriend. Whilst some audiences would have found the foul language a little off putting – it really was appropriate given her frustration and hurt that she merely wants to be with someone who finds her attractive and yet they don’t have the tools with which to sort this issue out amicably. One of the major highlights between these two that displayed great acting chemistry with each other was the list of insults that Steph reads out at the food court. As the list goes on and on about his poker tongue and other bad traits, you cheer on Steph’s revenge but also really feel Greg’s embarrassment and pain, all the while laughing the whole time! In the second half, as both Steph and Greg deal with their break up and moving on – you see moments of genuine tenderness between them outside the restaurant, which quickly dissolves again and shows how difficult it is to reconcile the hurt that has occurred.
Mc Namara grew stronger in presence as the play went on – and his broom dance was a hilarious pleasure to watch – though the two girls with phones behind the wire fence was perhaps one of only two staging glitches in the whole show –as it seemed to detract from Kent’s private moment. His exclamation that beautiful women are like athletes, ‘good for a couple of years and then it’s all over’ seemed to sum up his poor attitude to women, and how this causes conflict for Kent and Paul towards the end of the play before their big softball game when Paul confronts him about cheating on his pregnant wife Carly. The stage fighting here was really well choreographed given the tight space. Howlett had the smallest role of the four, but made it her own and her distress / concern in the later scenes were quite effective. The ensemble of these four, plus great direction from Segal milks all the funny moments for what they’re worth, black or not – as well as inserting moments of poignancy when required and is to be highly commended.
The set design by Isobel Sutton was starkly raw, cleverly utilizing a wire fence as the backing wall and simple set changes with furniture on wheels bought in and out by the actors when required for the home, work or shopping centre settings. This allowed the play to move fluidly and keep the rhythm and essence of emotion filtering from one scene to the next. The light design by Lucy Birkinshaw and sound by Raja Slavin was suitable and added to the tone of the scenes – especially effective were the disco light trims around the set floor, different arrangements on well known love or break up songs, as well as the witty insertion of the Milli Vanilli track!
This is the first Square Peg production that I’ve attended, and if this is indicative of the standard they deliver, then they are worth having on your season ticket list. It is fantastic that creative souls like this group together, get Crowdfunding support from www.pozible.com and allow us all to enjoy high quality performances from an awesome script that speaks to us all about what it means to be in a relationship, and to be considered beautiful.