Featuring an international cast of disabled actresses The Ugly Girl is a currently touring to Salford, Wolverhampton and Liverpool. Obi Chiejina reviews a performance of the show at The Continental, Preston
'Ugly Girl' combines the emotional and familial complexities of being ‘...ugly, queer and a thinker…’ faced by the protagonist Peg and the subversion of musical theatre traditions.
Often ignored by those she loves Peg chooses to circumvent notions of time by travelling between the past, present and future lives of her four daughters. Working outside the realms of their confined surroundings Peg, Wark, Boaz, Jinx, and Inga find themselves liberated from conventional female roles. They assume the identities of popular icons from American films and classic British literature.
Finding solace in an imaginary sphere inhabited by extraordinary characters Peg and her family revisit this comic drama of silly dances, lyrical songs, bawdy jokes and visual gags repeatedly. The playwright Galloway warns the audience that she will revise the script as the show progresses. Peg is a writer struggling to finish a chronicle of her past life story. She has written the play with character parts for all of her children and her lover Shultz.
But suddenly Peg dies. Wark, Boaz, Jinx, and Inga With pay a dramatic tribute to their mother by enacting 'Ugly Girl'. They alternate between bickering siblings and escaping into the fictional worlds of Punch (Boaz), Mole (Wark), Blanche Dubois (Inga) and Baby Jane Hudson (Jinx).
I enjoyed the part of Wark played by Gillian Dean. The protruding teeth and large nose resembles the facial features of Mole from Wind in the Willows. Wark shares his mild mannered disposition. But the animalistic features suggest beneath the stammer Wark harbours a darker side to her personality.
Her dual nature is imagined as two linked sub-stories. The first is a fairy tale titled ‘The House of the Three Moles.’ Wark is abandoned in a freezing blizzard. Dissatisfied with Wark’s weak behaviour Peg rewrites the fairy tale as a gothic story ‘Porcupine and the Mole.’ Wark becomes a porcupine bristling with resentment. The sharp needles penetrate the skin of her adversary Mole and symbolise the piercing of naivety.
Whilst the character of Wark was memorable Schultz gets lost under the sheer weight of the five roles she undertakes in the play. Schultz is meant to be Peg’s lover but I initially mistook her for one of her children. As the drama focuses upon Peg and her brood it is not surprising Shultz seems to be side-lined.
Despite its intellectual approach Ugly Girl remains a drama concerned with the old fashioned notion of the relentless quest for personal fulfilment. Galloway asks the audience to consider a number of human dilemmas. Whose narratives are we choosing when we define the terms past, present and future? Are these narrative influenced by our internal nature, our parents, siblings or friends? Are our character traits fixed or do we like Peg’s children alternate between our ‘real’ selves and fictional personas?
Perhaps 'real life' is as inconclusive as the ending of Ugly Girl?
The Ugly Girl Tour
Thursday 20 November, 7pm - The Continental, Preston
(newcontinental.net / 01772 499425, £7/£5)
Friday 21 November, 8pm - The Lowry, Salford Quays
(thelowry.com / 0843 208 6000, £10/£8)
Saturday 22 November 7.30pm, - Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
(arena.wlv.ac.uk / 01902 321 321, £10/£8
Wednesday 26 November, 7.30pm - The Bluecoat, Liverpool
(dadafest.co.uk / 0151 702 5324, £10/£8)
Ben Gunter; Composer, Music & Sound (US),
Donna Marie Nudd; Dramaturge, Co-Director and Creative Producer (US),
Terry Galloway; Writer and Co-Director (US),
Diane Wilkins; video and documentarian (US),
Liz Carr (UK)
Julie McNamara (UK)
Jean Graham Jones (US)
Christine Bruno (US)
Alan Kagan (US)
This tour is supported by Disability Arts Touring Network, a group of organisations and venues committed to developing disability arts in their regions and across areas of the UK, supported by Arts Council England Strategic Touring Fund.
There may be some adult themes and language.
The tour will include British Sign Language Interpretation and Audio Description.
Twitter #uglygirl @DaDaFest #DATN #dadafest14
For more information go to www.dadafest.co.uk
Please click on this link to visit the Disability Arts Touring Network Project page