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Review: Ugly Lies the Bone, at Lyttleton Theatre

10 March, 2017 — By Angela Cobbinah

Ralf Little and Kate Fleetwood in Ugly Lies the Bone. Photo: Mark Douet

First staged in the US in 2015, this is an intriguing play that promises a lot but, beyond its eye-catching hi-tech visuals and a commanding performance of the central character, gives little.

Demobbed gunner Jess (Kate Fleetwood) arrives back home in Florida horribly injured and scarred during a third tour of Afghanistan. Forced to painfully drag her broken body around on a walking frame, her interaction with those around her is reduced to sardonic, and often funny, one-liners.

Help comes in the form of a virtual reality programme that creates a world of her own imagination to distract her from the pain.

When she puts on the visor, the crater-like stage lights up to become a winter wonderland scene full of fir trees and snowcapped mountains.

Encouraged by a perky disembodied voice, who could as well be plugging washing powder as an experimental therapy, Jess is able to at last raise an arm above her head, and more as the sessions progress.

But it is only relief of sorts. She must also adjust to other people’s reaction to her facial scars, not least her ex-boyfriend Stevie (Ralf Little), and the fact that the town she grew up has been wrecked by recession.

That’s quite a lot for the audience to be getting on with and, as the scenes switch from VR to the comfy armchairs of home, you are soon wondering what’s it all about – reality or virtual reality?

Curiously, the war that lies at the heart of the drama, and that destroyed a body and in effect a town, is hardly mentioned. This creates an emptiness amid the high emotions on display, despite the efforts of an excellent cast and clever stage and video design by Es Devlin and Luke Halls respectively.

Until June 6
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