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Beauty comes from within

By Jarrod 15 Jul 2015

Germans don’t have senses of humour, we’re told repeatedly - apparently by people who have never met anyone from Germany. If that's truly the case, though, then how do you explain The Ugly One?

German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s razor-sharp satire thoroughly demolishes any notion of Teutonic humourlessness with a blackly comic exploration of society’s obsession with beauty. When Lette (Christopher Brougham) gets passed over at work in favour of a less-qualified colleague (Paul Waggott), he’s shocked to discover that it’s because he’s hideously ugly. And worst of all, until now, no-one has told him - not even his wife (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford), who can barely bring herself to look at him.

He resolves to fix the problem, consulting a plastic surgeon (Todd Rippon) who agrees to attempt a radical and risky surgery, with no guarantee of success - and the results are beyond his wildest dreams. His new and beautiful visage leads to fame and fortune - but perhaps surface beauty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The cast give impressive performances, playing multiple roles and slipping seamlessly between scenes without costume or lighting changes. This can at times be challenging - from time to time it can take a moment to understand which character is speaking, or register that the scene has changed - but it all seems to work regardless, and by the end of the play it becomes clear that an element of confusion may be part of the point.

It seems important that Lette’s ugliness (and his handsomeness) are suggested, rather than shown. There are no makeup tricks, and no transformation; from an audience’s perspective his looks are unchanged throughout. His inner beauty, however, is another matter entirely - and that’s the real achievement of The Ugly One.

A challenging, thoughtful and often hilarious look at the value we place on appearances.

The New Zealand premiere of The Ugly One runs at Circa Theatre until 7 August.

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