AFI nominated actor Paul Denny stars in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' which examines the social obsession with physical beauty and poses the ambiguous and somewhat frightening question: how much is pretty worth?
Denny grew up in a small town in QLD and attended the University of Southern QLD for 3 years where a solid foundation for his future career path would be mapped out and solidified. But Denny was a performer long before he found his path toward formal training as he explains: " For as long as I can remember I've always been a bit of a performer. My first encounter with acting was when I performed Monty Python skits and magic acts at the age of 11 for the annual community concert in Allora; the small town where I grew up. I was a big hit and each following year I wowed the crowds with my sleight of hand, and comic timing. I was also a huge Doctor Who fan and adored Tom Baker in particular. He was the first actor I ever idolised and wanted to emulate. He was brilliant in the way he could go from light to dark so effortlessly, and make the most absurd techno-babble seem entirely plausible.' Would you like a jelly baby?'"
Since that first magic act, Denny's acting credits and achievements have become the stuff of dreams for many young actors starting out. He has an AFI nomination to his name for his work in the ABC series Lowdown which, Denny says, was pretty cool. The greatest moment, though, was when Denny's agent fist came to him with the good news. "That was the real rush! It was a real validation from my peers," says Denny. " In the grand scheme of things though, awards are very far down on my list of priorities. By their very nature they are subjective and based on other people's opinions, and certainly not something to be taken too seriously."
As well as TV and film Denny is, of course, a stage actor and now starring in LaBute's contemporary work, 'reason to be pretty', which tells the tale of Greg’s tight-knit social circle which is thrown into turmoil when an offhand remark about a female co-worker’s pretty face gets back to his girlfriend. When Greg’s best friend and his wife also enter the picture, the emotional equation becomes exponentially more complicated. As their relationships crumble, four friends are forced to confront a sea of deceit, infidelity, and betrayed trust. It may not sound it from the synopsis but Denny describes this work as hilarious even though there is a serious message behind the play. "The play itself is highly relevant because of the spotlight it puts on the importance our society places on physical beauty, and the resultant moral and emotional decay that can ensue if an individual buys into all that nonsense," states Denny. "In the words of a great song, "Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly." The same goes for most of the people we are bombarded with in TV and cinema. I'm quite fortunate however in that I am a perfect physical specimen, so I have no insecurities of any kind."
The play was one Denny could not put down so, as well as starring in it, Denny is also a first time producer alongside his wife Rebecca Denny so, Denny says, there has been double the work, but double the satisfaction.
Independent theatre has a strong and vibrant history in Melbourne and is, indeed, a drawing card for many seasoned actors looking to continue their working craft. 'reasons to be pretty' will have quite a lengthy six week rehearsal period which, Denny says, has allowed for a fairly stress free environment. However, there are other considerations and challenges as Deny explains: " Because this is a profit-share show everyone has to juggle outside commitments (to keep the bills paid), as well as dedicate the bulk of our time to rehearsals. It's hard work, but at the same time we want the show to be of the highest standard possible and we realise that requires a lot of time and effort."
The play does have a message which is particularly pertinent in this age when beauty can be a yard stick for all. "As the themes within this play are universal we decided early on that we wanted this show to be firmly rooted in an Australian context, so as to comment on our own culture," states Denny. "I didn't see any point in putting on a show in American accents (with American references dotted throughout) because it would have no great relevance to our audience. To have done so would have immediately set up an emotional distance between the audience and the characters. I want the people who come to this show to see aspects of themselves in LaBute's characters. All that being said though, we really do just want people to come and be entertained, and have a great night at the theatre! It’s a Neil LaBute comedy. What’s not to love really?"
'reasons to be pretty' plays at Theatre Works May 31 – June 17
Please note: This production contains strong language and adult content.