Review: The Ugly One – 23rd Productions

13 April, 2011 by No Comments


Image: Sean Young

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the ugliest one of all?

I spent last night (Cheap Tuesday) in the theatre-company of lots of clever, good looking, thrifty people watching four other good-looking, artistic people playing Marius von Mayenburg‘s The Ugly One directed by Kat Henry. What a fun time we had watching other people watching us watching characters watching themselves – the production is set in one of !Metro Arts upstairs galleries, and the white seating around the thrust-configured playing area meant you could see every bit of the action up close – really up close – including certain … umm … thrust moments from the actors; some debate ensued post-show amongst the voyeurs in the audience as to who had the best or the worst view of said moments.

The Ugly One plays with notions of face value, and Jessica Ross cleverly exploits the play’s thematics as well as the challenges of the space in her design lit by Hamish CliftJeremy Neideck‘s sound composition of unseen, metallic, nerve-grinding operating room horrors complements the up-close and live wall-projections from the pov of  the patient while the bright, sterile-white performance area come forensic examination room creates the space and mood for a romp which, along the way, dissects society’s foibles and follies and hangs them out to dry.

With this show 23rd Productions has, once again, brought a gem of a play to Brisbane theatre. Thank the theatre gods for 23rd Productions, the little indie company that could and does. This was a canny choice for them. The Ugly One has been enormously successful in its native Germany, in the UK and elsewhere in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why. The English translation by Maja Zade permits much freedom of stylistic interpretation – in Ms Henry’s case, a reading closer to the classic modern English Monty Python school of farce, where wit and physicality combine to produce marvellous grotesquerie. It’s a great choice, and she gives her cast full rein to explore Von Mayenburg’s existential, farcical fable. The four-part ensemble company of experienced actors (Kevin Spink, Kathryn Fray, Norman Doyle and Dirk Hoult) are all terrific – playing multiple characters or variations of themselves with skill, intelligence and obvious relish.

Lette (Mr Spink) a widget-maker is ugly – horribly, dreadfully ugly – but he’s a really nice guy. His wife persuades him to become beautiful with a face change. He does, and the results are spectacularly successful; he is no longer shunned, he becomes an object of desire and his face becomes the most wanted in the world – he is transformed in more ways than one. What ensues is a hilarious post-modern comedy of manners which dishes up all its favourite obsessions for our delectation and demolition: celebrity, sex, avarice, power, money, greed, exploitation  …

As Chaplin once famously noted, ‘Comedy is a very serious business.’ Von Mayenburg’s morality tale is absolutely clear in its satiric intent – make ’em laugh, but get ’em all.

And who’s the ugliest one of all? We all are.


The Ugly One
by Marius von Mayenburg
Translation by Maja Zade
Directed by Kat Henry
Featuring: Norman Doyle, Kathryn Fray, Dirk Hoult and Kevin Spink
Set Design: by Jessica Ross
Lighting Design: by Hamish Clift
Sound Composition: by Jeremy Neideck

Wednesday 6 to Saturday 23 April, 2011
Preview: Tuesday 5 April, 7:30pm
Opening: Wednesday 6 April, 7:30pm
Artist Talk: Wednesday 13 April – join the actors and crew for a drink and post show chat.
When: Tuesday to Thursday, 7:30pm
Friday to Saturday, 7pm and 9pm
Where: Metro Arts Galleries
Tickets: Adults $25/ Conc. $22/ Preview $15/ Group (10+) $15
Cheap Tuesdays: $15 (door sales only)

Bookings: (07) 3002 7100 or