In Neil LaBute’s newest play, Reasons To Be Pretty at The Almeida Theatre, two couples push what it is to be in a relationship and to look at each other’s ‘beauty’. Whilst they say that beauty is found on the inside, LaBute makes it clear that too often we are inclined to look at the exterior of someone, to judge, and often misjudge, someone by theirphysical defects.
Greg (Tom Burke) and Steph (Siân Brooke) are in the middle of a blazing row as Reasons To Be Pretty opens from Soutra Gilmour’s designed container set. The heated argument is regarding an overheard conversation that has reached Steph through a work colleague of Greg’s. Apparently the question of who is more attractive has come up, and in this instance Steph doesn’t quite make the cut against the new office girl. This is the catalyst for LaBute’s play as he begins to dissect what a relationship is built on.
Reasons To Be Pretty is a fine example of a play that works: it sits comfortably within the Almeida’s stage, the cast are exceptionally fitting, and when it comes to the direction, it’s hard to fault Micheal Attenborough. If theatre could be person, then Reasons To Be a Pretty would be the sort of person you would want to take home to your mother. Respectable, charming, funny in the right moments and with a sense of homely warmth. Yet I wouldn’t want to marry it. Reasons To Be Pretty is almost too refined and rounded. If anything, it lacks the edge, the dramatic tension to give it a sense of risk. This is, of course, not a bad thing as such, and is more me attempting to find holes within an otherwise flawless piece. I guess I just don’t like comfortable theatre, but for a night out, I couldn”t ask for more balance on the stage.
Running parallel to the fragile relationship of Greg and Steph is another relationship: Carly (played by Billie Piper) is happily pregnant and has her man Kent (Kieran Bew). Whilst it appears to be grounded, it borders on the edge of collapse. Men, LaBute seems to state, just can’t get enough of women, and women just can’t trust men. Kent finds himself sleeping with the 23-year-old new office girl, whilst Greg attempts to cover up his tracks, albeit guiltily. It’s clear that someone will slip up and someone will get hurt, and again LaBute is keen to show how fragile our relationships can be, how easily discarded and disregarded we (not just men, but women too) can be.
Whilst the American characters are at times stereotypical, which grates on the ear, there is a line of empathy that’s carved through the piece. [SPOILER ALERT] We can’t help but to feel sorry for Greg, especially at the end where it seems that nothing he can do is really right, and ultimately he is left alone, attempting to find the right path for himself.
With a pitch perfect cast, and witty dialogue that LaBute has masterfully put together, Reasons To Be Pretty is an excellent piece of theatre that looks into the nature of beauty in relationships. Showing how fragile we can be over our looks and others’ perspectives of them, LaBute cleverly takes his audience on a journey of discovery for themselves. I left contemplating my own relationship, worried that a single throw away comment could easily be the start of the downfall of what I’ve built. I guess in some ways LaBute wants you to treasure what a relationship gives you, and in many ways it’s sad to see Piper’s character destroyed because her man is too greedy and can’t see the beauty that he has in front of him.
Are there reasons to be pretty? To control, to feel loved? I guess we’ll leave that to the pretty people to find out, but until then, I’d take advantage of this comfortably performed play and grab a ticket at The Almeida Theatre. you won’t be disappointed.