Neil LaBute is never far from controversy but the Whingers have less issue with his subject matter than his titles. Andrew got himself in a right old tizzy about a missing comma In a Dark Dark House (also at the Almeida Theatre) and earlier this year he was quite punctilious about the punctuation again when that AWOL comma turned up quite superfluously in In a Forest, Dark and Deep before being being told to stand on the stupid step as it was a quote from Walt Whitman.
It was Phil’s turn this time. Shouldn’t Reasons To Be Pretty be Reasons to be Pretty, arguing that Ian Drury’s song “Reasons to be Cheerful” opts for lower case on the copula verb? When the play first appeared in New York in 2008 LaBute seemed To Be taking no chances, dropping the upper case completely by opting for reasons to be pretty. Gosh, everyone seems confused. Some think it’s Reasons to Be Pretty.
But are we arguing about physical appearance rather than content? This is what Lord Harold Fritz-Liberty (Mr LaBute’s Royal Wedding name) is tackling again in the third of his trilogy of plays on the subject. Phil had previously enjoyed the twisted The Shape of Things (also Almeida when it decamped to King’s Cross) and both Whingers were very taken by his Fat Pig.
This has an opening Cecil B DeMille might of approved of. Didn’t he want a film that opened with an earthquake that built up to a climax? RTBP opens with a young couple Greg (Tom Burke) and Steph (Siân Brooke) mid-row, initially teasing us by not revealing the cause of this ferocious expletive riven argument. Four-letter words abound and the Whingers were glad they didn’t bring their mothers.
Steph has been told something that Greg has said about her by her friend Carly (Billie Piper). Carly is married to the macho Kent (Kieran Bew) who is also Greg’s warehouse worker colleague, friend and all round shit. Be careful what you share with friends. The burden of knowledge proves To Be a dangerous thing.
Intially taking the LaBute signature cynical take on relationships the most shocking revelation here is that he seems to be on a slightly more compassionate course than usual. Has LaBute found reasons To Be cheerful himself?
Andrew complained at the interval that he’s a bit over listening to people not finishing their sentences. Phil found this naturalistic, certainly in the Whingers’ cases. They’re always finishing each others’, usually because as they grapple for the right word the other will step in and lend a hand to complete the thought. The lines can’t be easy to learn, let alone perform, to make them sound realistic. The cast are all so good under Michael Attenborough‘s direction the dialogue flows most satisfactorily.
But the Whingers did agreed that Brooke (who is quite terrific here) is probably too attractive for her role as the victim of Greg’s “insult”. But perhaps that’s partly the point.
Act 2 works best in a set of scenes where the interaction is between just 2 characters. A scene where Steph and Greg meet at an Italian restaurant has a touch of Private Lives about it and a later scene between the two is equally effective. Carly’s interrogation of Greg proves that if anyone has any doubts about Piper’s acting abilities they should be completely exorcised here: she’s excellently nuanced and convincing. Andrew’s favourite was a splendidly played, tense scene between the two chaps on the baseball field.
Soutra Gilmour’s versatile haulage container set is extremely clever although its revolving scene changes a tad cumbersome but these are managed with very agreeable snatches of Queen songs which underscore the goings on rather appropriately. The Whingers shared an unusual moment of synchronicity at the end with this reminder of the Queen cannon’s magnificence. Why haven’t they ever taken in We Will Rock You? A trip to the Dominion now seems inevitable.
As the Whingers mulled over the play in the Almeida bar post-show, Kieran Bew turned up on the next table and they couldn’t help but remarking to each other what a fine looking fellow he is. Which just goes to show that the Whingers hadn’t been listening to a word Mr LaBute was saying. Or that they had but they hadn’t learned anything.