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Theatre Review by Leonard Miller
What: Ugly Mugs
Where: Malthouse Theatre
When: 16th May - 7th June
Produced by Malthouse Theatre
Written by Peta Brady
Directed by Marion Potts
Performed by Harry Borland, Peta Brady, Steve Le Marquand and Sara West
Malthouse Theatre’s 2014 season has so far been consistent in presenting strong, unique voices in exciting and compelling ways. Commissioned by the theatre and directed by Artistic Director, Marion Potts, Ugly Mugs is no exception. Potts backs up her strong decisions as Artistic Director with this highly capable demonstration of her craft as a director of coherent, resonant theatre.
Peta Brady’s script is honest and poetic. With Potts’ guidance, the actors find the nuance and deliver it beautifully. The design is well considered and sophisticated and the narrative is delivered through a series of well wrought theatrical devices. The combination of Potts’ dexterous handling and Brady’s honest renderings of a contentious subject make Ugly Mugs a definite highlight of the season so far.
Prostitution and the accompanying stories of desperation, destitution and abuse are well known subjects in theatre. Brady brings the story up to date. She uses the insight garnered over a lifetime working as a support worker with street workers, and her skill as an experienced writer and actor to create an engaging and uncomfortably credulous piece of theatre.
The play is staged in the traverse with seats on two sides overlooking a strip of asphalt. The seating banks face each other which immediately puts the audience on display. This creates a backdrop of passive observers and makes for a quietly menacing feel that adds weight to the message. Potts’ direction is strong with most performances happening in profile. This gives both seating banks equal vantage and makes for a strong visual style.
The performances are impressive. Harry Borland and Sara West are both excellent as the flirtatious teenagers. Steve Le Marquand makes a spine chilling predator, but it is Brady herself, as the crass, dead prostitute and the slightly demented, suburban mum, who really transforms.
The lighting is inspired with the use of fluorescents and down lights to create atmosphere and interest. The design team of Michael Hankin and Lucy Birkinshaw have evoked the brutality of the streets with a poetic sophistication, while Darrin Verhagen’s sound is seamless and evocative.
A well made and engaging portrayal of a heavy subject, Ugly Mugs is hard to fault. An example of theatre that works.
5 stars