James Haddrell reviews Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One

I am constantly on the look-out for the most exciting emerging theatre-makers, particularly those who form their own theatre companies as they leave drama school.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

With the industry so saturated with excellent young creatives it is often the only way for new actors, directors and designers to have their work seen – but the tough question facing all of them as they embark on their careers is what to make – whether to tackle a piece of existing drama or make something new, what a venue will be interested in programming, how to begin the process of creating an identity for their company.

For Bristol Old Vic graduates Natalie Simone (director), Christopher Williams, Kate Cartwright, Sumah Ebelé and Kerr Louden, the choice was a revival of Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One, which premiered at the Royal Court in 2007.

Described at its premiere as “a delectable black comedy” by the Evening Standard, and “fiendishly clever” by, this is not an easy play to get right, but it seems this young company are hitting all the right notes.

The play follows the fortunes of Lette, an inventor on the cusp of delivering a major presentation that will change his career, but at the last minute he is told that his assistant has to deliver the presentation in his place, as there is something seriously ‘wrong’ with his face.

In desperation, Lette turns to a surgeon who offers him a drastic yet miraculous transformation.

The result of Lette’s operation pivots him into new spheres of fame and glory but eventually, confronted by the true price of his transformation, Lette is left to question his very identity.

With echoes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, The Ugly One takes an obvious swing at a world which celebrates appearance and condemns deviation from an artificially generated norm.

A biting satire when it was written, the explosion of social media and the power to rewrite your identity and ‘touch-up’ your appearance online has surely made the situation even worse today.

The joy of placing this story on stage is the inevitable link to The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Christopher Williams will look no different to us, the audience, after his operation than he did before, no more or less handsome, attractive, striking, whatever those terms really mean – but the characters around him will fall at the feet of the transformed inventor, lust after him, want and need him.

Appearance, made clear here, is a coded way of interpreting a person’s position in society, in commerce, in the media, and that coding (unlike Lette’s invention) is arbitrary.

Even science is reframed by the appearance of the scientists behind its discovery.

Simone and her cast presented their production at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol and are now transferring the show to the Hope Theatre in Islington for a strictly limited two-week run from September 12-23.

For anyone interested in what the next generation of theatre-makers are interested in, this looks like a great place to start finding out.


Picture: Christopher Williams in The Ugly One Picture: Craig Fuller

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:


If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.