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Ugly – Carriageworks, Leeds

Writer: Emma Adams

Director: Rod Dixon

Reviewer: Joanne Hartley


Ugly is a vision of a future ravaged by the consequences of climate change. As the play’s title suggests, it is not a comfortable sight.

On entering the auditorium the audience is met with a foreboding soundscape of haunting desolate wind, eerie white noise and data bleeping and trilling menacingly in the airwaves. Jaydev Mistry’s sound design is prominent throughout, aurally guiding the audience through the different locations of the play.

The post apocalyptic landscape, designed by Sara Perks is depicted using four versatile mobile panels. It is both futuristic and nostalgic. This is a no-man’s land of iron-work, barred windows and body armour constructed from reclaimed materials salvaged from historic waste dumps at a time when resources are scarce.

The story follows Extra Super Special Ben, played by Pete Hinton, who leaves the quarters where the privileged reside and travels to the ghetto. He is accompanied by his friend Woody, a hardened female soldier, played by Rebecca Rogers. The ghetto, where the marginalised Non-Specs scavenge an existence, is rife with vice and violent crime and what began as a hedonistic pleasure trip quickly turns into a nightmare. Thankfully, Mrs Mason discovers Ben and Woody before the authorities do and provides safety for them in her home.

Jo Mousley’s performance as Mrs Mason, the disgraced former home economics teacher, forced into prostituting not only her body, but also her forbidden reminiscence of food, really drives the desperate yet comic atmosphere. She fluctuates between wretchedness, cheery optimistic denial and a familiar educationalist authority wielded, as appropriate, to keep the other character’s unruliness under control during a strange kind of perpetual home economics class.

Playwright Emma Adams successfully and skilfully employs the darkest of dark comedy to intermittently seduce the audience and offer respite from the bleak hopelessness of the characters’ lives. Another striking feature of the future world, complete with its own astutely imagined language and conventions, is the resonance of recognisable features from our present day lives. This vision is not so far into the future as we would like to imagine.

Rod Dixon’s direction has ensured that the cast of five have reached into the darkest depths of themselves to discover the guts of despair and depravity and to represent these with a truth that puts the audience at ease with the play’s bold content. The cast are obviously invigorated by the complexity of the characters and the rapid twists and turns, highs and lows, shifts in status and transitions from comedy to tragedy. Their urgent, earnest focus is palpable. I believe that this production will mature and go from strength to strength as the performers establish their rhythm and magnitude during its tour.

Runs until 4th of November 2010 (on tour)

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