Saving face has never been so literal. The transience of beauty– both the inside and outside variety– gets a boisterous interrogation in the Scottish premiere of Marius von Mayenburg’s light-hearted satire.
A disastrously ugly man, Lette (Martin McCormick) takes drastic action to rectify his horrendous visage and bag a customer-facing role at work, but is wholly unprepared for how drastically his life will change as a result of having a perfectly sculpted schnoz. Overwhelmed by wealth, fame and attention, Lette abandons his patient wife and jealous colleagues to pay service to his many adoring fans. But when the surgeon responsible for his miracle makeover realises Lette’s face is the key to her own fortune, Lette suddenly has to deal with once again being one in a million.
The ridiculous plot requires a cast well-versed in geein it laldy, and there isn’t a weak link in this raucous foursome. Michael Dylan struts through the action with glorious campy cattiness as both Lette’s put-apon assistant and the mummy-whipped son of a billionaire businesswoman, pulling the kind of elastic reaction faces that should have their own Instagram channel. Tron newcomer Helen Katamba is excellent straight-man foil for the insanity, with pin-sharp comic timing as both Lette’s incredulous boss and his money-grabbing plastic surgeon. Sally Reid, predictably, steals every scene she’s in with a gut-busting line in physical comedy, channelling everyone from Lucille Ball to Patsy Stone. At the centre of the whirlwind, Martin McCormick plays Lette with an adorable glaikitness that ensures he never loses our sympathy, despite all his despicable behaviour.
The cast is supported by fantastic design work from Becky Minto, whose pristine pastel-coloured set evokes some unholy Barbie Dream house, a toy box where everything inside is disposable, plastic, commodified. Andy McGregor’s soundscape reinforces the concept of a world created around the shallow whims of the characters: moans and drones and thrusting fashion beats, distorted pop hits and cartoonish sound cues that the cast conjure and respond to like characters in a video game.
Debbie Hannan’s direction is whimsically slapstick: from the hilarious surgery sequence that makes ingenious use of a spare bowl of fruit and Michael Dylan’s mad foley artist skillz, to a sex scene of carnal carnage that leaves the stage looking like Pat Sharp’s Fun House run over with a bulldozer.
It’s frenetic, and while this often heightens the comedy, occasionally it feels the action could do with slowing down a few paces and letting some of the darker themes of the play breathe. There’s a fantastic moment in the third act when Lette comes ‘face to face’ with himself, allowing McCormick to flirt with some unsettlingly spiky emotions and conjure up a pathos and fragility missing from the rest of the production. Conversely, at times Maja Zade’s English translation of von Mayenburg’s text seems a little zing-less; the comedy doesn’t always bite as sharp or as deep as it should, no matter how many inflatable sharks (?) are thrown at it. Maybe turning up the contrast between both these aspects would make the show more than just an incredibly enjoyable Friday night romp.
However, this is the Tron’s Summer comedy slot, and if you’re needing a hit of ridiculous theatrical nonsense to get you through the next six months until the venue’s legendarily bonkers panto is back on-stage, The Ugly One is here for you, warts and all.
The Ugly One plays at Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 20 July. More info here.