When was the last time you saw an ugly woman performer? Or one where her ugliness was not an indication of her depravity, villainy, or destitution? The Ugly Show encourages audiences to acknowledge that all bodies are ugly sometimes and an ideal that asks anyone, especially women, for anything less is simply unrealistic.
Part sketch comedy, part cabaret, The Ugly Show hits all the hot topics of beauty, ugliness, fatness, body hair, body shape, and even the humble nipple, here honoured with a rap. Devised by the cast of four, the production includes a monologue from each performer about their own body image and experiences with external judgement which adds a heartfelt weight to the more light-hearted comedy scenes. In particular, director and performer Maddie Houlbrook-Walk’s story about attempting to hide her weight in a science lesson at school was a vulnerable insight into her personal experience but also a reminder of the often innocuous ways fat people are made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
Other scenes have a more subtle message like Thalia-Joan Halperin and Cassandra Ng being enamoured with the beauty of everything around them only to be interrupted from an ugly attack by Keshini de Mel. Does the pistol-toting de Mel represent intrusive thoughts of self-doubt or the bull-dozing messages of mass marketing, or is she merely there to even things out a little bit? The ambiguity allows the audience to take the message they need from what they see or recognise on stage.
A lot of what The Ugly Show presents will be recognisable, especially to those who were teenaged girls. From the watermelon-esque set design by Olivia Mead which resembles the Disney Channel bedroom we all dreamed about or Halperin’s monologue performed while prancing around in a feather boa, a staple in any precocious tween’s wardrobe, much of the design is like a reclamation of the spirit of the early teen years for millennial and gen-z girls.
Stand-out performances came from Houlbrook-Walk and Halperin who both showed an authentic comfort on stage even when revealing their insecurities clad in nude Spanx. Halperin was funny and well-timed in a jazz number about her particularly perceptible boobage which received a healthy laugh if not applause from the giddy audience. Easily the best scene saw Houlbrook-Walk imitate a beauty guru’s make-up tutorial for inner beauty with shockingly unexpected results.
The Ugly Show is exactly what it says it’ll be: a rough, unsophisticated, ugly exploration of what these women think about bodies shown without glamorisation or a tasteful jooshing. And it invites the audience to experience the freedom of ugliness even going so far as to stage a two minute free dance in the dark for everyone to shake out their appendages and let go of judgement. While some jokes land and others don’t (we don’t all love a surprise banana), the sentiment of the production is strong as a heartfelt attempt to dismantle expectations.
The Ugly Show is running at Flight Path Theatre from November 13th – 17th