Harriet Grenville

Review: UGLY LOVELY at Old Red Lion

ugly-lovely.jpg The Old Red Lion is currently housing Ffion Jones’debut play, Ugly Lovely, in which she also plays the lead role Shell, a 26-year-old Swansea girl with a 3 year old son living with his grandmother, and an absent promiscuous boyfriend. Presented by theatre company Velvet Trumpet, the play’s message is loud and clear, as it shines spotlight on the bleak futures of working class Swansea girls.

Shell and her best friend Tash (Sophie Catherine) are stuck in an endless cycle of fake tan, Lambrini, kebabs, hangovers and the occasional line of coke when they can get their hands on it. For Tash, this is the dream, and she is blinkered to the idea of there being more to life elsewhere, whilst Shell wants out, and dreams of moving to Liverpool.

Jones’ play shows tremendous promise, but it is drowned out by an awful lot of screaming and shouting. To be fair, this could be exactly what these Swansea girls Jones is placing on stage do, but to an audience that may not have experienced them first hand, the level of hysteria reduces its power and it almost feels more sitcom than gritty drama. Both Jones and Catherine should be recognised for their bravery and openness throughout the piece. They are bold, brash and never shy away from being ugly, stuffing their faces with junk food and bearing their flesh in less than flattering clothes. But in their quest to expose the inelegance of their characters, they unfortunately fall into the realms of caricature, shouting lines in such a high register that the dialogue often becomes incomprehensible.

This is not to say the play is without its moments of power. The sub-plot of Tash’s pedophilic uncle and violent father allows Catherine to show great moments of vulnerability beneath her dim-witted, party-girl exterior. Jones' writing has plenty of brilliant one-liners, and her dry delivery has the audience cackling frequently.

Lizzie Leech’s set provides an excellent setting for Ugly Lovely, effortlessly transforming from kebab shop, to kitchen, to nightclub toilets. Nikolai Ribnikov’s production is full of energy and commitment, but could do with some work on the balance between the comedy and dark reality of the situation it is bringing to our attention.