Ugly Lies The Bone explores the transformative powers of virtual reality. American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino combines 'a tonne of research' into technological innovations with a prescient story about an army veteran readjusting to life after combat. The play comes to London after causing a stir Off-Broadway.
Olivier-winning stage designer Es Devlin creates a spectacular set that makes virtual possibilities a reality on the Lyttelton stage. Curving upwards, it shifts seamlessly between a small Florida town and computer programmed paradise.
Kate Fleetwood plays Jess with an affecting combination of brittle humour and moments of yelping panic when the chronic pain takes over. She opens the play partially hidden behind a virtual reality headset, while a disembodied voice from a booth explains 'if you distract the body with enough stimuli it can't think about your pain'.
After three tours in Afghanistan Jess has returned to Florida, disfigured by severe burns all over her body and traumatised by the bomb blast that caused them. But it's not just Jess who has changed.
Her chipper sister Kacie (Olivia Darnley) has a new boyfriend (played with spark by Chris Marshall), whose idea of a hard day's work is pretending to be injured enough for sick pay. Jess's ex-boyfriend Stevie (Ralf Little) is married and house-hunting. The awkwardness of adjusting to Jess's injuries cuts close to the bone, ricocheting between droll humour and real ugliness.
In sunny, familiar Florida excitement is mounting for the NASA rocket launch. But Jess retreats from this reality to create a virtual world, swathed in snow. Here she can explore without pain and gradually rebuild confidence and move forward physically and emotionally.
At its best, Ugly Lies The Bone is both unflinchingly real and a transportive fantasy. But there's something shallow about the characterisation that renders the play more of a study than a story. While the possibilities it plays with are certainly interesting, it's the extraordinary visuals rather than the dialogue or narrative that will stick with us.
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|What||Ugly Lies The Bone, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
22 Feb 17 – 06 Jun 17, 7:30 PM – 9:05 PM
|Price||£15 - £50|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|