[2013037] One for the Ugly Girls

[2013037] One for the Ugly Girls

ONFG @ The Tuxedo Cat

3:00pm, Thu 21 Feb 2013

Tickets for this performance were booked nice’n’early in the Season; not only is playwright Tahli Corin an old friend, but matinées are – as any Festival Freak knows – like gold dust. And this matinée, despite having extra seats inserted into the customised venue, was completely sold out… but canny crowd management saw us sitting smack-dab in the centre of the front row with a perfect view of an artist’s studio… or, at the very least, a spacious lounge room.

The artist in question, Alistair, is well-respected, with works hanging in the National Gallery; but the death of his wife (and muse) has left him creatively barren. In attempting to kick-start his abilities, he has ordered the life model who most matched his wife’s image from an online register; when “Jade” turns up, coarse and somehow shifty, he distances himself from her – “Jade”‘s physical appearance differed from the online identity that Alistair purchased.

Despite Alistair’s initial misgivings, however, the creative spark within him is activated; “Jade” peppers him with plaudits for his work, and probing questions about his feelings for his deceased wife. Initially hackling at “Jade”‘s questions, Alistair soon finds his footing in their relationship, and they begin to verbally spar in an invigorating manner.

But suddenly another woman arrives – and Alistair instantly recognises her as the Jade he ordered off the website, pretty and polished. As he banishes the first “Jade” from the house, the audience becomes privy to the relationship between the two women: the first “Jade” is actually the Real Jade’s sister, Claire, who took advantage of her sister’s booking to meet one of the artists she admires. The women spar, venomously attacking each other’s approaches – Jade’s vapid beauty opening doors, versus Claire’s pragmatic take-what-you-can-get approach – before Claire leaves.

When Claire later returns, anxious to claim some of Alistair’s sketches that she’d squirelled away, it becomes clear that Jade has seduced Alistair, ingratiating herself to him; Claire appeals to the memory of his wife before the trio fracture one last time before the play’s end. And that left me to applaud three conflicted characters, none of whom were particularly palatable.

Jade is the easiest character to reconcile – she’s clearly a manipulative bitch, and Hannah Norris plays her wonderfully, a holistic goddess with a soothing breathy placation of Alistair. When alone with Claire, however, the pretences are dropped and the knives come out; it’s a brilliant piece of (essentially) multi-character acting. Syd Brisbane’s Alistair – the only character to leave most of his clothes on – initially evokes pity via his wife, with his obsession keeping him at arm’s length; but the speed of Alistair’s acceptance of the Real Jade – essentially discarding the burgeoning bond with Claire – makes him appear to be… well, shallow. Unlikeable.

And that leaves Claire, played by Lori Bell. Now, I’ve never really got on with Bell’s comedy in the past – her Granny Flaps character is a little too coarse for my apparently delicate ears – but I was pleasantly surprised with how well she can act. She’s also much more buxom than I’d imagined – and most definitely ginger – and she makes Claire the most likeable character of the trio, despite her inclinations toward subterfuge and theft; her closing soliloquy (from which the play takes its name) is a truly wonderful, impassioned piece of work.

Whilst the staging would have certainly benefitted from a full black-out between scenes, the space is used well; but I was left struggling to pull all the threads of One for the Ugly Girls together. Maybe that’s because all the characters rubbed me the wrong way, leaving me with no clear Hero to support; maybe that’s because the denouement didn’t really provide any clear direction. But there’s no doubting the strength in performance and production of the ONFG crew; maybe I just wanted a neat little bow on the show that afternoon.

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