Off West End Review

Ugly Lies The Bone – National Theatre

ugly lies the bone

It was the end of an era. The end of NASA’s shuttle programme in Titusville, Florida. The termination plunged the city into a state of depression with high unemployment, crashing house prices and a cloud of gloom.

Jess (Kate Fleetwood) left this once thriving coast for a third military tour of Afghanistan, only to return bearing the physical and emotional scars, caused by the impact of an IED.  She has spent 14 months recovering in hospital and returned home to her sister Kacie’s (Olivia Darnley) to reconnect with the life she left behind. However, Titusville has changed and the comfort Jess desperately seeks is hard to find.

In this new play by Lindsey Ferrentino, she presents a place where pain can be overcome in a virtual realm, the daily humdrum of a recessive town can be forgotten and disabled limbs can move again. When placing the virtual reality helmet on her head, Jess can escape to a snow-scaped paradise. It’s a world created just for her, in the hope that the respite will significantly improve her rehabilitation.

It’s a fascinating concept, but sadly in Indhu Rubasingham’s production there lacks any real exploration or depth. During a short 90 minutes, Ferrentino only lightly touches the heart of this depressive city and the social impact on the key people in Jess’ life. Ralf Little plays ex-boyfriend Stevie who was laid off from NASA and now tolerates a job at a gas station. He’s brilliantly awkward, and although perfectly cast alongside Kris Marshall (as Kacie’s no-hoper boyfriend), the duo become the comedy pair and are given little else to work with.

ugly lies the bone

For all the flaws, Kate Fleetwood gives an impressive performance as a woman longing for a quality of life, unruled by suffering. Her portrayal is demandingly physical, with limited use of limbs and the appearance of facial scarring, expertly created by the make-up department. Her toughened shell is hard to break, but beneath the surface there’s a real kindness and warmth towards her doting sister Kacie. Jess’ moments in VR, free and weightless, are particularly touching.

After The Nether, there’s little surprise Es Devlin’s been called in as designer. The VR effects are stunning and there’s a breath-taking moment as Jess soars over the glades to Ben and Max Ringham’s electronic soundscape. Devlin has created a wondrous moon-crater-set to encase Luke Halls’ videography beautifully, that transforms into a birds-eye city view as if glancing down from space.

But for all the video coolness, the real issues at the heart of Ugly Lies the Bone, lie only skin deep.

Ugly Lies The Bone runs until 6th June at the National Theatre

(Photo courtesy of Mark Douet)

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