'Reasons to be Pretty' review or 'Bumbling blokes and barmy broads'

'Reasons To Be Pretty', Neil La Bute,
Almeida Theatre, Thursday 17th November
Written for the Ham & High

'Reasons to Be Pretty' is Neil La Bute's final play in a trilogy of shows about, well, being pretty – and the ugly behaviour this modern-day preoccupation provokes. Set in a nameless American Town, it examines the devastating impact of boyfriend, Greg's, casual confession that his girlfriend is not a looker. In fact, he goes so far to describe her as 'regular', in a not-so-secret chat with his best-friend, Kent.

It might sound like a slight slip but it prompts the most extraordinary argument and an explosive, expletive packed opening to La Bute's play. Girlfriend Steph (Sian Brooke) circles the bedroom like a wounded boxer, as she backs her baffled boyfriend, Greg (Tom Burke), into a corner. The atmosphere might be over-amplified – Steph's epic outburst feels a little over the top – but it remains a viciously entertaining opening.

Soutra Gilmour's set revolves with every scene change, as LaBute cleverly examines the argument, and its aftermath, from every angle. Each revolve reveals a satisfyingly balanced double act and director Michael Attenborough teases out some crackling chemistry from his four-strong cast. Greg, with his litany of library books and monosyllabic restraint, spars brilliantly with brutish friend Kent (Kieran Bew), who is obsessed only with baseball, boobs and bums. One does question how the two ever became friends but their bullish banter is sparky and depressingly believable.

LaBute even allows a little humanity to emerge from his hard-hearted humour. When Kent's girlfriend, Carly (Billy Piper), begs Greg to confirm her boyfriend's suspected affair, it's painful to watch her hunt down the truth she so patently dreads. And when Tom Burke tells his girlfriend they were 'just drifting', thus allowing her to marry her sensible new fiancé, his smiles ache with unspoken sacrifice.


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