Iphigenia in Splott, Ffion Jones' debut play Ugly Lovely follows unemployed Swansea girl Shell (Jones,) starting with her 26th birthday, which everyone has forgotten. She has a boyfriend and a three-year-old son, but the former has disappeared, presumed to be sleeping around, while her mother has taken in the latter as she doesn't trust Shell to look after him. On top of this her grandmother, the only person who seems to have been a positive influence, has recently died, and the lonely Shell has taken to talking to the urn with her ashes. So with a lot of time on her hands, she ends up spending time with her best (only?) friend Tash (Sophie Hughes) in Swansea pubs and clubs, getting drunk as cheaply as possible. Although framed as a comedy (but without many of the jokes landing*) Ugly Lovely is mainly a pretty bleak look at a wasted life, and someone who understands all too well that she's wasting it.
Though its attempts to keep a lighter tone stop the play from feeling too much
like misery porn, there is a relentless grubbiness to Nikolai Ribnikov's production,
from the filthy set from Lizzy Leech to the characters' constant spitting, vomiting
and smashing things up, plus the always-visible onstage toilet.
A bit of fun comes
into Shell's life when she decides to hook up with old school friend Robyn (adorable
Oliver Morgan-Thomas - is the tattoo real? I don't think it is, it looked too dark
plus it actually seemed to go over the nipple, which isn't something I've ever
seen.) But this too comes with a dark side.
With numerous speeches to the dead grandmother from the actor/playwright, Ugly
Lovely feels a little bit like a monologue that occasionally brings in a couple
of extra bodies.
But at the same time Jones struggles sometimes with the small size
of the cast, a couple of scenes require rather strained reasons to leave the
characters alone in busy public places. There's some interesting touches but Ugly
Lovely overlabours its points, the writer's inexperience showing through.
Ugly Lovely by Ffion Jones is booking until the 16th of July at the Old Red Lion
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval
Photo credit: Velvet Trumpet.
*someone accidentally snorting a dead relative's ashes is becoming a cliché now, and
given it's explicitly set in 2016, I wondered if the dated references were meant to
be making a point about Shell and Tash being out of the loop of popular culture?
With jokes at the expense of Jade Goody and Cilla Black, I did wonder if Jones had
heard of any famous people who were, you know. Alive.