Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ugly Mugs, May 20, 2014 ***

By Peta Brady, by Malthouse Theatre; 
Co-production with Griffin Theatre; Malthouse Theatre Commission (Malcolm Robertson Foundation)  
Beckett Theatre, until 7 June, 2014  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  
Stars: ***

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Wed May 21 and later in print. KH
Peta Brady and Steve Le Marquand; Photo: Pia Johnson

Both the perpetrators and the victims remain nameless and strangely anonymous in Ugly Mugs, Peta Brady’s unsentimental, sometimes grimly comical play about violence against sex workers.

Brady draws on her experience working amongst sex workers to build the gritty realism, vivid central character, hard-boiled dialogue and bluntly brutal descriptions in the play.

A 37 year-old prostitute (Brady) lies on a morgue gurney chatting idly, even cheerfully, to a forensic pathologist (Steve Le Marquand) who is, in fact, investigating her death and performing her autopsy. (Not a spoiler as we know this in the first minutes.)

In a second narrative thread, a teenage boy (Harry Borland) and girl (Sara West) meet in a park where they tussle and taunt each other in an awkward, possibly dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The play, directed unobtrusively by Marion Potts, is somehow more unsettling because of the sheer ordinariness of the characters and because the violence is described in a matter-of-fact way, rather than being enacted.

It is chilling to hear the details of the woman’s autopsy as she enquires unemotionally about the procedure and explains her recollections of the attack and her attacker.

Brady plays her unnamed character with a disquieting cheerfulness and humour, bringing to life this damaged, hard-bitten but warm woman who lived and worked on the streets, collecting a list of ‘ugly mugs’- the men who wantonly abuse prostitutes.

Le Marquand cleverly balances the cool and clinical with gentle care for his vulnerable patient.

The second story thread is compelling at times, with Borland playing the mentally unstable boy who craves contact with West’s stroppy, superficially tough, young woman.

However, this relationship is ultimately less effective and not as satisfactorily resolved as the main narrative.

Another problem is that the speech patterns in the teenagers’ dialogue echo tough, street language but the actors’ inappropriately polished, middle class accents do not match it.

Ugly Mugs is certainly a play with challenging, topical issues and it was with some trepidation that I walked the darkened streets after the performance ended.

By Kate Herbert

Steve Le Marquand &Peta Brady; Photo: Pia Johnson
Direction / Marion Potts
Set & Costume Design / Michael Hankin
Lighting Design / Lucy Birkinshaw
Sound Design / Darrin Verhagen
Cast includes / Harry Borland, Peta Brady, Steve Le Marquand, Sara West

By Kate Herbert

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