Review: One for the Ugly Girls, Adelaide Fringe Festival

How do we see the beauty of someone? Does it rest on the surface or lie hidden within? Is it caught from the side of your eye, or at a certain time of day? Tahil Corin’s play One for the Ugly Girls is a tour de force of questions and challenges about what makes a person’s body beautiful. When artist Alistair Mitchell loses his wife to cancer his version of beauty and the subject of his drawings is lost to him forever. Desperate to find her beauty again he hires a model, Jade, to pose for him. It’s only when Jade turns up, looking less like her photo and with a foul mouth that Alistair questions where the beauty of a woman lies. One for the Ugly Girls is a powerful and poignant piece, sitting in the atmospheric setting of the Tuxedo Cat’s takeover of an abandoned department store at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

For a play of just 75 minutes, One for the Ugly Girls packs a punch, whilst raising some problematic questions around the nature of beauty and acceptance of loss. Syd Brisbane as the artist Alistair is much like puppy, caught in the headlights of loss and stunned by the beauty of women. Whilst Lori Bell [*SPOILER*] as Jade/Claire turns out to be deceiving him in an attempt to prove that any woman can be drawn for their beauty, her feisty mouth is a treat with plenty of laughs, but it also adds a tenderness to the piece. Together Brisbane and Bell capture the audience in Corin’s play, and with its twisting narrative you never really realise where it might lead until the play completely spins around.

Adriana Bonaccurso’s direction has you caught up within the play with ease. It’s easy to sink into the piece whilst being on tenterhooks as the plot seems to thicken. But where One for the Ugly Girls really proves its worth on the stage is the subtlety and power of Corin’s message. It’s certainly not a feminist piece, although the object of beauty is women, but it does leave you with an empowering feeling – to be who you are, not what others want you to be. Beauty can often be a fickle thing in the eye of another, but if there is one thing that Corin shows in One for the Ugly Girls, beauty is also universal, in the smallest of details and more often than not, in the opposite of the cliched idea of beauty – in the harsh reality of life.

It’s good to see such a solid piece of theatre being presented at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Whilst I could nit-pick at some of the transitions between scenes, Bonaccurso and her team have done a great job of presenting Corin’s play. Battling against the spillover of noise from another performance in the Tuxedo Cat, the cast held their own. Bell is a particular highlight, offering a honest performance. The art of life drawing shines through, especially in some of the sketches that are shown throughout the performance and across the performance space (designed by Manda Webber). Whether or not Brisbane creates these sketches live on the stage I couldn’t quite work out, otherwise I imagine the dab hand of Webber is to congratulate on some fantastic pencil drawings.

If you’re looking for a piece that fills you with questions, and offers a pure theatrical offering, then One for the Ugly Girls is surely it. Solid writing with a good plot twist, and a cast that capture and enlighten. What more could you want from some theatre?

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.