Ugly Lies the Bone
National Theatre, 28th March 2017
Tricky one this. It was by no means perfect, a little too thinly drawn for me, but there was so much to applaud that I think it worthy of a strong positive review.
The playwright, Lindsay Ferrentino is entirely new to me, but the string of awards, the intriguing content and the imprimatur of the NT, was enough to sucker me in. The play focuses on Jess, played by a massive favourite of mine Kate Fleetwood (her performance in Medea at the Almeida, directed I recall by hubby Rupert Goold, and written by a Kate Atkinson in full-on spleen venting mode, was a cracker), who returns ravaged physically and mentally from tours in Afghanistan to her native Space Coast Florida. She undergoes a pioneering virtual reality therapy, which gives set designer Es Devlin and her video, lighting and sound colleagues carte blanche to pump up the pyrotechnics, and boy do they seize the opportunity, whilst rebuilding relationships with sister (Olivia Darnley), an old flame (Ralf Little), sister’s maybe dodgy boyfriend (Kris Marshall) and eventually mother.
The text is direct but funny, Ms Fleetwood draws out Jess’s p*ssed-offedness with the world brilliantly, the supporting cast are uniformly excellent and Indhu Rubasingham’s direction (how is that Tricycle refurb going?) is clear as a bell. The reliance of Jess’s hometown on the NASA space programme is also well articulated to mirror Jess’s personal demons. So all good. I just wanted a little bit more. The technical pyrotechnics were a bit guilty of overshadowing the personal dramas, and the urge to maintain a lightish touch and neatish resolutions, left me liking the characters more than caring for them. Smaller stage, more lines, less fancy-dan stuff might have served it better.
Anyway definitely worth seeing though (on for a few more weeks and plenty of tickets) and I hope to see more of Ms Ferrentino’s work.