Theatre review: Reasons To Be Pretty at the Almeida Theatre

Billie Piper stars in a play that asks just how important it is to be pretty

For a play that ridicules the pursuit of beauty, Reasons To Be Pretty is just too alluring for its own good.

The story is one that is heart-wrenching, tragic and above all truthful with some delicate and emotionally-charged performances by its standout cast – most notably from the intensely likeable Tom Burke and a fierce but fragile Billie Piper.

Burke plays factory worker Greg, an appealing character who takes on the unenviable role of juggling the rest of the cast’s emotions and secrets.

The action opens during an almighty row with his girlfriend Steph (Sian Brooke) – an argument triggered when he made the mistake of describing her as just “regular” looking.

What follows is a bittersweet break-up, but their relationship still seems more healthy and functional than that of their friends’ Carly and Kent – played by Billie Piper and Kieran Bew. Kent is your archetypal chauvinistic male, sleeping around behind his pregnant wife’s back and berating his weak-willed friend for dwelling on his ex.

The audience sympathises with Burke’s intelligent reaction to the domestic conflicts and Piper shines in her role, erupting into heartbreakingly sincere tears when she learns of Kent’s betrayal.

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The fact the actress is pregnant has been neatly integrated into the script - a script that is dense with humour, tragedy and honesty.

Neil LaBute tackles a universal theme that we never really wanted to face in the first place. Just how important is it to be pretty? This touchy question was enough to rip apart a relationship that would have flourished under any other circumstances, so if that is all we focus on, then what happens when it all falls apart?

* Reasons To Be Pretty is showing at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, N1, until January 14.