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Monday 19 December 2011

Reasons to be Pretty, Play by Neil LaBute, Almeida Theatre, London, 8* out of 10

Neil LaBute's play Reasons to be Pretty gets off to an explosive start in a young couple's bedroom when Steph (Siân Brooke) confronts her boyfriend Greg (Tom Burke) about a remark he has made to his friend Kent (Kieran Bew) at work that day. Kent's pregnant wife Carly (Billie Piper) who works as a security guard at the CashCo supermarket with Kent and Greg, has overheard the remark and told Steph about it: Kent had gone on about a new “hot” young woman employee in Accounts and Greg had said that he finds Steph's face quite plain and yet is very content to be with her. Steph wants Greg to own up to what he said. She is angry and finds it unacceptable that he should not think her pretty. Is it worth making so much out of this kind of remark even if it were (objectively or subjectively) true?

Greg is a nice enough fellow who has settled into a comfortable routine. As a result of Steph's readiness to follow through on her feelings of hurt and anger towards him, he is shaken up. Taking a lead from her, he begins confronting his own complacency and lack of drive both in his friendships and in his professional life.

Reasons to be Pretty is a resolutely American Play. Its protagonists are average Americans (average not being an insult in this context in the USA) wanting something better for themselves, not just economically. But how will this play out?

LaBute is a master of capturing contemporary language in the intelligent, fiercely funny dialogues between his characters. With the character of Greg he has created a modern, intelligent male, who has to decide whether to see himself as the innocent victim of his girlfriend's exaggerated sensitivity or to look deeper and act. Will Greg be man enough to face this challenge?

The production by Michael Attenborough is fast paced and precise, the set by Soutra Gilmour is inventive, the music well chosen and integrated. As a result of the pregnancy of one of the actresses and based on suggestions from Attenborough, LaBute has rewritten parts of the play for this, its UK premier If anything this has enriched the play.

The four actors are excellent. Tom Burke as Greg gives an outstanding performance, and Siân Brooke movingly rises to the demands of a complex role. Definitely worth a visit to the Almeida.

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