Robert Tanitch reviews Ugly Lies The Bone at National Theatre/Lyttelton.
Ugly Lies The Bone is not exactly the sort of title to get theatregoers rushing to buy seats. It sounds more suitable for a horror movie.
It helps if you know where the American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino got the title from. It’s a quote from Albert Einstein:
Beauty is bit skin deep,
Ugly lies the bone,
Beauty dies and fades away,
But ugly holds its own.
The play immediately sounds more interesting.
A soldier (Kate Fleetwood) returns home after her third tour of duty in Afghanistan with burns to face and body so horrendous that she no longer looks the same. She is in excruciating pain all the time. It is painful too for the audience to watch her, in agony, undressing to put on a new dress.
She lives in a small town in Florida and is having cybertherapy. Virtual reality is used as a medical means to relieve chronic pain and is said to be more effective than morphine and not to be addictive. The relief from pain lasts only as long as the trip.
The generated world is infinitely preferable to the real world she lives in. The town is in downfall since a NASA space shuttle programme closed down. There are no jobs. She is frustrated that nobody will re-employ her as a teacher.
Kate Fleetwood is impressive. Ralf Little as her ex-boyfriend and Kris Marshall as her sister’s boyfriend, two not very bright males, invariably putting their foot in it, provide some welcome comic relief.
Indhu Rubasingham’s production, designed by Es Devlin, shows some spectacular snowy mountain landscapes. Cybertherapy is more interesting than the actual 90-minute play, which is thin on drama. The video images by Luke Halls are projected on a huge screen and curving set which might be even more effective in a smaller theatre, immersing the audience as well.