Reasons to be Pretty – Smock Alley – Review by P McGovern
Written by Neil LaBute
There is an irony in director Jessica Aquila Cymerman’s foreword to her production of Reasons to be Pretty for Untold Wants theatre company. That “Words matter”, she tells us, is important in approaching the play and indeed for life in general. Unfortunately the words of the play itself are frequently lost by one actor and occasionally by another in what is otherwise an excellent production of a gripping and indeed an important play. While the smaller theatre at Smock Alley has a limited capacity, its double-height spaces mean that audibility cannot be taken for granted. Actors who work mainly in film can fall into the trap of forgetting that there is not a microphone hovering just above their head. Hearing the dialogue is not an optional extra. Dropping the voice while turning upstage or to another actor’s shoulder is not just irritating; it is a major obstacle to the enjoyment and appreciation of the play by the audience.
If that seems a bit blunt at the opening of this review it is not the full story of the production. Everything else is excellent. In fact all four actors are otherwise well cast and the characters are fully convincing. As Greg, Jack O’Dowd is pitch perfect as a sincere, unassuming young man, hesitant and self-doubting at times but when issues of principle and integrity build up, he has the physical and moral courage of his convictions. His performance is flawless. Killian Coyle’s Kent is the perfect foil: all macho posturing and laddishness, initially charismatic and attractive but ultimately hollow and manipulative. Their transition from casual fellowship to reserved disapproval to outright hostility and confrontation is beautifully handled. In this as in so much else the direction is superb.
Gemma-Leah Devereux plays Steph, who may have attached too much importance to a misheard or misunderstood comment from Greg, losing a good relationship as a result. It is an emotionally nuanced and controlled performance, moving from rage, resentment and hurt through reassessment to eventual resilience. In the end she has settled for a comfortable life with what may – or may not – turn out to be Mr Right. The final bitter-sweet scene with Greg is a memorable, delicate two-step. As Carly the initially too trusting wife of bad boy Kent, Ally Ryan generates exactly the right sense of innocent trust in a man who is unworthy of her. It is a deeply affecting performance though hampered, it must be said, by frequent lapses in audibility.
Set design by Diarmuid O’Flaherty allows for fluent scene changes while Kevin Blake’s sound design hits all the right notes, in every sense. Special mention should be made of filmographer Conor Sweeney’s superb use of film, with Jack O’Dowd’s final piece to camera serving as a quietly powerful epilogue to the play and a commentary on what we say and the impact of our word and actions on other people. This is a fine piece of theatre making at Smock Alley, continuing until Saturday December 17th at 8 pm nightly.
Written by: Neil LaBute
Directed by: Jessica Aquila Cymerman
Set design by: Diarmuid O’Flaherty
Costume design by: Abby O’Reilly
Lighting design by: Conor Byrne
Sound design by: Kevin Blake
Fight Choreographer: Rich Wilson