‘Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bone; beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own.’
Lindsey Ferrentino, playwright, from Ugly To The Bone.
Today, I read an interesting piece in Dezeen about Es Devlin’s set design for a new play, currently on at the National Theatre: Ugly Lies The Bone. I saw this play a couple of weeks ago.
The set was one of the most striking features of the evening so do click the link above to read, and see, more from the set designer on this via Dezeen.
In content, the play follows an injured soldier, Jess, who has returned home with massively disfiguring burns – after a tour in Afghanistan – as she participates in some newly-designed virtual-reality therapy and attempts to reconcile her new actual-physical reality with her past and, to-be-her, future life.
Whilst well-acted, I thought there were some jarring elements of construct and emotional passage.
Minor roles seemed under-developed; one or two so clumsy or peripheral as to be no more than ciphers for a singular point made but not integrated, begging the question of ‘why bother?’
The virtual-reality therapy idea, initially interesting, kind of petered-out into unhelpful cliches, possibly intentionally – to make a point about the inadequacies of non-human attempts at therapy. Or maybe to reflect the inadequacy of therapy at all in the face of such profound damage.
I could relate to the latter having had a therapist suggest to me, a few years into my massively paralysing neurological illness, that my change in situation was no more than akin to changing jobs! I think I made my point, maybe several, in rebuttal of this idiotic analogy.
In the play, I mostly empathised with the social, psychological and practical aspects of resuming your life after a profound physical and mental change as Jess’s experience in this respect is not dissimilar to that of someone – like myself – whose life is dramatically and visibly changed by illness.
The play managed to find some truth in reflecting Jess’ despair, self-doubt and reticence as she tried to resume her life, facing unpalatable responses to her new reality, from herself as much as others.
However, finally, I felt the playwright struggled to close the play out – torn between wanting a feel-good ending yet recognising there probably wasn’t going to be one. I wished she’d stuck with the bleak as the actual ending left me cold.
I left wanting to applaud everyone involved, despite my reservations, for tackling a really tricky subject and attempting to do so in an engaging and innovative manner. If you like theatre that gives you something to think about, I’d recommend it.
Ugly Lies The Bone, National Theatre, London, currently to 6 June 2017.
Access Note: as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the NT is completely wheelchair accessible with a decent amount of underground parking for blue badge holders. Wheelchair and companion spaces (free for Access scheme members) can be booked online. Parking is free – show your blue badge and get a voucher at the ticket desk.