Back to the trusty Old Red Lion to see it housing what it houses best: new writing. This time produced by Velvet Trumpet, a company whom I have been following quite ardently over the last year. Velvet Trumpet have managed to sprinkle the fringe scene with some pretty impressive dark comedy of late, balancing both aspects on a knife’s edge, I have laughed and experienced a sunken heart at all their work I have seen so far. Ugly Lovely promises to put us through that all over again. Set in the grim dim of Swansea nights out where life seems to have stood still for Shell. She wakes in a hangover haze and realises the permanence of it, the perpetual cycle of nights out, short skirts and kebab shops that she has been riding on since she was sixteen. Her only confident, her Nan, has recently passed away, her toddler has been taken away by her mother and her best friend is blinkered to anything that isn’t the same Swansea she’s always known.
See what I mean? Promising: utterly brimming with potential to be garish, familiar, loud and depressing. Ugly Lovely sounds as if it is primed and ready to balance on that knife’s edge that Velvet Trumpet has been sharpening so intricately. The problem is there’s no balance, none whatsoever.
It is Ffion Jones’ debut play in which she plays the lead, Shell, and she has gone full throttle into the comedy of it. The physical, visual and lyrical comedy that she employs, is in places, nuanced and hilarious, but there is far too much of it. It is so loud that it is headache inducing. The characters aren’t characters they are caricatures. You find yourself incapable of sympathising with them because they aren’t earning it. Jones has made them into Jeremy Kyle rejects, instead of incorporating elements such as enough of a desire for change, or developing quieter moments of reflection. There are flashes of depth that tantalise us into something of balance, something both ugly and lovely, but they are never explored. In this vein, Shell’s best friend Tash (Sophie Catherine), is by far the most interesting character but is side-lined. If she were to be fully developed she could become the nucleus of balance for the whole piece.
Taking it for the comedy it is, it feels like the makings of a great sitcom as opposed to a stage play. The characters need some work, more dimensions, fewer clichés. As a whole, though there is so much potential there to make something that is both bloody hilarious and deeply moving, but on this occasion they’ve fallen into the oh so tempting option of playing for laughs.
Ugly Lovely is playing at the Old Red Lion until 16 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Old Red Lion website.