Neil LaBute's play Reasons To Be Pretty at the Almeida opens with an almighty row going on between couple Greg (Tom Burke) and Steph (Sian Brooke) which takes rather a long time to get to the cause of the argument. And when it does - a comment made by Greg to his friend Kent (Kieran Bew) along the lines of yes that other woman is very pretty but I wouldn't swap her for my normal looking girlfriend - it just seems petty.
Indeed Steph's hysterical response culminating in throwing a hairbrush at Greg which rebounded off the set wall and nearly took out someone on the front row just seems ridiculous and extremely irritating. She is just one of three really irksome characters.
Kent, with whom Greg works at a Costco warehouse, presumably would have been frat boy had he gone to college and is an obnoxious, superficial, letch who is having an affair with a young female colleague. His pretty pregnant wife Carly (Billie Piper) has overheard the inflammatory comment and told Steph. She is bitchy, selfish and two-faced - well they all are, apart from Greg.
I hadn't even made half way to the interval when I wanted to shoot the three of them and rescue Greg (well it is Tom Burke). But, and here's the dilemma, I was laughing too and curiosity about where it might go got me back into my seat for the second half.
Carly starts to suspect her husbands infidelity and becomes more human and fragile, fearful that her pregnancy is making her paranoid. While Kent just gets worse.
Steph, having split from Greg moves on to a new relationship and seems to be a better person for it which of course means she starts to regret the split.
In the middle of it all is Greg who doesn't always say the right thing in the right way but is well-meaning and genuine and for that had me rooting for him.
You have to dig deep to find any substance - predominantly the subplots such as whether Greg should break a promise made to Kent and tell Carly about his infidelity. The play doesn't really examine whether being beautiful is a curse, as it says in its publicity notes (maybe you get more of that if Carly isn't pregnant.)
There are some jarring bits of dialogue and the actors don't yet feel at ease with the American accent. Piper's particularly feels forced but this was still a preview performance so that might all change with time.
It is peppered with toe tapping snippets of Queen tracks and has a whizzy and clever set which involves a Costco shipping crate doubling as home, work place, restaurant lobby etc with just a quick rotate and lift or lowering of the right flaps. And of course it is quite funny in places.
But does it add up to worthwhile play? Well I enjoyed it more than My City but it isn't going to win awards and it isn't going to stand out from the crowd at the end of the year. It isn't quite entertaining enough to be just a romp, the character arcs are just not pronounced enough and there isn't enough substance to make it really interesting. It's a relatively easy watch - irking aside - and a pleasant enough evening at the theatre but no more than that.
I'm going to give it 3 and a half stars and I am really curious to read what the critics make of it come press night.
Reasons to be pretty is booking until January 14 and it will be interesting to see how the play adapts to Billie's naturally growing bump.