This no-holds-barred musical examines what it means to be the typical Ugly Girl adrift in a comically hostile universe through slapstick, music and dark humour. Starring Julie McNamara and Liz Carr, The Ugly Girl is reviewed by Roger Cliffe-Thompson as ‘a classic of its genre’.
This was my event of the year. I haven’t seen anything like it to match its sheer brilliance and innovation.
Peg, mother to a dysfunctional family, dies in front of the audience after she finishes writing her play. Who would keep a corpse on stage for the whole performance?Only Terry Galloway would and it works!
Discovering she has ‘gone’, her dysfunctional family, yes, I have said it once and believe me it’s worth saying again, her dysfunctional children are shocked and they leave the sanctity of their rooms to act out the play in Peg’s honour… in front of her!
Perhaps this may set the scene for what is to come, for the result is true mayhem! Penny Dreadful meets the Wizard of Oz colliding with a burlesque West Side Story into Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll would have been proud as each member of the cast transforms themselves in and out of nightmarish surreal characters as they follow the theme of the play, the attempted killing of The Ugly Girl – the unlikely progeny of Punch and Judy.
And it is here that Terry Galloway and Donna Marie Nudd show off their extraordinary talents for not only casting but stage direction. Liz Carr is unsurpassed as Nasty Polly, performing deadpan whilst wearing a large pair of plastic breasts and riding her wheelchair like Nefertiti in a chariot.
Her amazing strength of character is mesmerising and you don’t want her to leave the stage. Jimmers Micallef is a star. His ‘Tin Man’ persona is so theatrically over the top that he is right out of the Entertainer and his is the glue that binds the actors together.
Gillian Dean as The Ugly Girl takes song and dance routines to a new level especially as she functions at her superb best whilst wearing a comic false nose, (who needs to pay for a nose job?).
Jean Graham-Jones as ‘Peg’ has only the opening scene but she plays it believably ‘dead’.
Christine Bruno as ‘Pretty Girl’ uses her impairment brilliantly throwing out an American baby voice like polished pearls to steal the audiences hearts as did the heroines in the pantomimes I watched as a child.
Last but not least Julie McNamara took Punch and shook him so hard she produced a character beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. The sheer ferocity and energy of her performance was literally magnificent and totally believable. She could live off the character she has created for the rest of her life.
But this wasn’t a play about individuals. It was a multi-layered team effort where you were entranced and appalled at the same time. Innovative stage directions flowed like wine, witness Nasty Polly doing a song and dance routine with Punch. I roared with laughter and couldn’t stop clapping because here was another aspect of the play that is completely undersold… it is a musical. A musical which wouldn’t work without the brilliant composition and direction of Ben Gunter who should be congratulated for adding his unique voice to the production.
Okay, perhaps the introduction was a bit long, no fault of Jean Graham-Jones and again The Ugly Girl could have had one of her numbers chopped… but the unexpected and outrageous acting kept me on the edge of my seat. I won’t give the ending away but The Ugly Girl is much more than one play. It covers many issues, not least what will happen to the family now that mother has gone?
I went home in a state of euphoria, I had seen something genuinely new, not an easy task in this day and age, a polished and professional performance in which each actor would have graced any West End stage. If The Ugly Girl comes your way don’t hesitate to grab a seat for it will become a classic of its genre and you can say… ” I was there at the beginning.”