Review: Reasons To Be Pretty, Almeida Theatre

Billie Piper (Carly) and Tom Burke (Greg). Photo by Keith Pattison.

In the opening scene, we see a couple – Greg and Steph – having an explosive row and it takes a few minutes into the row to figure out what they are arguing about. Steph screams and swears at her boyfriend and I responded to this over the top scene by switching off. When I found out Steph’s rage was the consequence of her boyfriend describing her face as ‘regular’ to a colleague while they were talking about ‘a hot new girl’ in their workplace, I sat in disbelief. Is it so bad to find out that your lover (with whom you have a four year relationship) thinks you have a regular face? Admittedly, he is a bit drippy when he tells her that he was complimenting her but her decision to leave him after this episode is a childish reaction that fails to evoke any sympathy. He proceeds to win her back but, frankly, he should run a mile from any woman who goes into a raging meltdown over petty things. Reasons To Be Petty may have been a more apt title.

Greg sets out to discuss his domestic turmoil with his work buddy – a testosterone fuelled Kent. Kent’s girlfriend, Carly, works as a security officer at the same place and is also a friend to Steph. She takes Steph’s side in this domestic rife and blanks Greg. Now Carly is not a woman whose face can be characterised as ‘regular’ and Kent takes pride in going out with a woman who has all the physical attributes men want in women. Soon we discover that the relationship between Kent and Carly is not all it’s cracked up to be. Kent’s theory of how to keep a woman happy is as shallow as it comes. More arguments follow which culminates in a not very convincing physical fight between Greg and Kent. The fight scene is necessary as the confrontation between two men hit boiling point but the fight lacks physicality.

Greg who is confused by Steph’s rage and decision to leave him will have learnt one thing from his buddy: honesty is, ultimately, bad for relationships. For all sorts of reasons, including insecurity, it’s not easy to say what you really mean to your partner and this is evident in the way the two couples struggle to communicate with each other. But this production doesn’t really work hard enough to make something of this theme.

For a play that focuses on four working class characters, the language is decidedly middle class. On character uses the words ‘to crimp’ at one point, for instance. The play is well meaning in that it highlights the monotony and the purposelessness of many low grade physical jobs. Greg, in the end, finds a way out this and it is suggested that his escape is primarily brought about by his love for reading (Poe, amongst others). Greg is pitted as the middle class aspiration for working class people, a recommendation some may find patronising.

Tom Burke does an admirable job as Greg. Kieran Bew, who I last saw in The Knot of the Heart, gives us a downright brutish Kent and Billie Piper is particularly good as Carly. Sian Brooke’s Steph is a turn off in the first half, what with all the shouting, but she, thankfully, slows down to show us her tender side in a moving final scene. Soutra Gilmour’s set design – a versatile cargo that doubles up as a bedroom, a kitchen and public spaces – is very clever and the music between scene changes is brilliant. This play can be enjoyed for what it is on the surface but I am not sure that it goes far enough to give depth to the poignant themes. Overall, this is unfulfilling.

Until 14 January 2012.
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with an interval.
Written by Neil LaBute.
Directed by Michael Attenborough.

This review is based on a performance I saw during preview week.


About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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One Response to Review: Reasons To Be Pretty, Almeida Theatre

  1. jessicad5 says:

    Definitely agree that this play is not particularly inspired, and glad to know I’m not the only one. Sometimes I get frustrated when all the professional critics think one thing, and I have a completely different opinion

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