Theatregoers of a nervous disposition beware; if you are offended by choice language and find yourself tutting at vulgar vocab in TV dramas, the first scene of Reasons To Be Pretty will have you diving for cover.
Sian Brooke’s Steph swears like a f***ing trooper. She’s like a machine gun of rudeness spraying obscenities across the auditorium. Of course, this is both hilarious and for a reason. She’s upset with her boyfriend of four years. To be more accurate, she’s raging like a temperamental bull in a red rag factory. Why? Because her best friend has informed her of a minor comment – the kind we men always seem to make – about the relative prettiness of her face.
Somehow Brooke’s Steph manages to be both fragile enough to allow this one throw away comment to rip her life apart and robust enough to frighten the bejesus out of me, like some kind of porcelain serial killer.
While Steph lets her own paranoia and self-image issues to drag her down, Tom Burke’s everyman Greg – a hard-working chap just going about his life trying to better himself – is left trying to apologise, make amends and understand just why all of this happened.
The situation isn’t helped by the fact that his best friend, Kieran Bew’s Kent, is the stereotypical man-child, so caught up in ogling pretty girls and trying to win at sports that if he were a superhero he would be named Testoster-Boy. There really is little to redeem the caveman-esque dufus.
While he continues ogling, Greg has to be the one to grow up and make the tough decisions, not least about Kent’s wife Carly (Billie Piper), who, with a baby on the way, is losing both her figure and Kent’s attention.
As you might expect for Neil LaBute, Reasons To Be Pretty is packed with cutting, witty one-liners and a dark humour. Burke’s Greg is sharp as a tack and a step above the others on the intelligence ladder, which leaves him with most of the best lines, except the threat “I will murder your fish” delivered in that memorable opening scene by Steph.
But there’s also much anger and sadness to the piece; anger at Kent’s puerile behaviour – really, grow up man – and sadness at how each of the other characters are affected by questions of attractiveness and image.
Designer Soutra Gilmour’s inventive use of a haulage crate as the set for every scene lends a quirky interest to the piece, as does the decision to score every scene change with a different Queen song.
But quirky flourishes aside, Reasons To Be Pretty is a touching tale peppered with sarcasm, that is, at the end, just a little bit heart-breaking.