Review: Lindsey Ferrentino's UGLY LIES THE BONE at the National Theatre, Lyttelton

It's rare that I see something at the National and end up being disappointed in it, but in a season of shows like the ones that the NT are producing right now, there really has been a lot that has been sub-par in comparison to their bigger works. Unfortunately, Ugly Lies The Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino is a prime example of just that and it's a shame to see.

It's not that this play is necessarily bad or unenjoyable because it is still a fine show to watch for 90 minutes or so, but with a subject matter as heavy as what is being presented in this play, I left the theatre feeling unphased by the characters and uninterested in the story; not once did Ferrentino's writing make me care for any of the characters in the play, nor did it really make me want to know what happened to them either.

Kate Fleetwood as Jess and Ralf Little as Stevie in Ugly Lies The Bone

The story follows a woman named Jess who, after three tours in Afghanistan, comes home to Florida with severe disfiguration to her entire body and must learn to live with her scars in a home that has changed while she's been away. Along with her sister, her future brother-in-law, an ex-boyfriend and her senile mother, Jess starts some virtual reality treatment to try and dull the pain that she feels and the story follows her recovery and settlement into the town she once knew. It's a story that works on paper and one that would probably make a fantastic novel/film adaptation, but as a 95 minute play, it just felt rushed over and lazy. The characters felt underdeveloped and the version of Florida that they lived in felt so unfamiliar and weird to the audience, I couldn't even comprehend why she was staying there half of the time.

The cast of the play are fine with a good performance from Kate Fleetwood alongside familiar face Kris Marshall as Kelvin and Olivia Darnley as Kacie, but none of them give very groundbreaking performances. Even Fleetwood's performance falls short in this piece, which is a real shame after some of the great work I've seen her do before. The portrayal she gave felt like an impression of a woman with severe burns, not a proper characterisation at all, the same as Darnley's caricature performance of her sister Kacie and Marshall's clown-like performance as Kelvin; for a play that clearly tried to have depth and impact, it lacked it in the performances greatly.

Three-time Olivier Award-winner Es Devlin OBE's set design for Ugly Lies The Bone

The design for the show was interesting, but it felt decidedly cheap. Es Devlin's set was very impressive in design and definitely gave this very small piece much more scope, but its execution felt very tacky - the way the set moved to the centre of the stage was regularly met with such big and loud jolts and shudders that it didn't feel professional at all and detracted from the piece for me. I believe it was Johanna Coe who did both costume and makeup and while the costume was fine, the makeup - especially the burns on Jess's skin - looked much more like prosthetic and fake burns as opposed to the real deal. The bad makeup paired with a slightly unbelievable portrayal ironically made for an even less engaging lead character.

All in all, Ugly Lies The Bone is in the bottom-most selection of what is currently playing at the National Theatre. Not only is it disappointingly unexciting, but its lack of depth and care around the production makes the whole piece fall short. I'm all for pieces that normalise the disabled experience, but it's clear that this wasn't supposed to have done that and it missed the mark as a result.

Kris Marshall as Kelvin and Olivia Darnley as Kacie in Ugly Lies The Bone

Ugly Lies The Bone continues at the National Theatre, Lyttelton through June 6th. Tickets are available from the website right here.

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