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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Reasons To Be Pretty
Almeida Theatre    Winter 2011-2012

This is an entertaining little sitcom with a bit of a bite – not that it turns sour, but that it turns out to have a little more dramatic weight than we're led to expect at the beginning.

As in his previous plays The Shape Of Things and Fat Pig, Neil LaBute's subject is the way we allow conventional concepts of attractiveness to control us. 

A genuinely nice guy innocently says that, although his girlfriend may not be the most beautiful girl in the world, he loves her. Able to hear only the first half of that statement, she goes ballistic. Meanwhile his buddy keeps telling his wife how pretty she is, and can get away with murder. 

So far so light. But LaBute then shows us how these surface situations expose deeper rifts in the two relationships and the four personalities.

In the course of the play the first guy will have to come to grips with the fact that blokeish blindness is irresponsible in the adult he wants to be, while his now ex-girlfriend must face the extent to which she bases her identity and defines her value by how others see her. And in the second couple, the man's appreciation of his wife's beauty is exactly the quality that allows him to cheat on her with an even prettier woman. 

So, without ever moving too far beyond the boundaries of romantic comedy, the play provokes a little more thought – and perhaps self-recognition – in the audience than most others of the genre. (I suspect that men and women will respond to it differently, leading to interesting post-theatre conversations.) 

Tom Burke skilfully and sympathetically carries much of the dramatic burden as the guy willing himself to grow up and learn from his experience, while Sian Brooke smoothly navigates the difficult journey from seeming totally bonkers in her overreaction to the imagined insult toward a greater roundness and depth that let us understand and sympathise with her character. 

Kieran Bew is given a somewhat generic boorish guy's guy to play – some of his scenes with Burke almost inevitably sound like early David Mamet – but does it well, and Billie Piper has even less to do as the wronged wife, and does what is asked of her.

Michael Attenborough directs with his accustomed smoothness, and Soutra Gilmour's set is built out of a large shipping container, which shows how very clever she is.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Reasons To Be Pretty - Almeida Theatre 2011

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