Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 18 September, 2007

For some 12 or 13 years now – this is neither an exaggeration nor a joke – I have been almost entirely unable to bear seeing my own image, whether reflected or photographic. (The picture which sometimes appears by my name on this page is out of date.) I do not know whether that makes me more qualified, or less, to comment on Marius von Mayenburg's play about the commodification of image.

Lette is told one day that he is in fact hideously ugly, and no-one had ever mentioned it because they assumed he must know and was bearing it heroically. He has his face entirely reconstructed, and suddenly "I look like someone I'll always envy." What follows is preferential treatment at work, becoming almost universally desired by both sexes, and paid appearances as advertisement for his plastic surgeon. As Lette's smugness and arrogance increase, though, his face begins appearing on others: the surgeon is selling exactly that face... though it cannot be called "Lette's" face. Cue reversal of fortune, material and personal downfall as Lette's wife now has her own pick of perfection, and ultimately identity crisis so entrenched that the final minutes of speech in this 55-minute production consist of what Daffy Duck once called "pronoun trouble".

Ramin Gray's staging is visually rough: there is no image concept for us to transfer our attentions on to. Michael Gould's Lette sits in a swivel chair, rotating between auditorium benches on three sides of him on which sit the other three actors, each playing two or three roles all with the same name. Von Mayenburg's script flows continuously, so that characters change in mid-conversation, and at one point in mid-copulation. It could be played as absurd farce, but Gray permits only Lette to show emotion, and then only to a modest degree. The other three are all matter-of-fact, whether Frank McCusker propositioning him, Amanda Drew as his wife denying that sleeping with his identically-faced work colleague is infidelity, or (in particular) Mark Lockyer explaining how he is now a facial artist rather than a mere doctor. We are all devout consumers of the looks industry, but seldom if ever stop to consider that in some cases a face literally does not fit.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2007

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage