Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone explores alternative pain relief therapies in a production directed by Indhu Rubasingham at The National’s Lyttelton Theatre. Set against the heat of a Florida town, slowly being abandoned as the last space shuttle takes flight and NASA packs up shop.
Having returned from a third tour of Afghanistan with crippling injuries, Jess, undertakes therapy in the form of Virtual Reality. At each session a disembodied voice guides Jess through a type of physiotherapy best described as gamification. While Jess, initially sceptical, starts to feel less pain within the virtual world, in the real world both physical and mental anguish is exacerbated by encounters with an ex-boyfriend, family woes and the difficulties in regaining her old lifestyle.
The immense physical pain experienced by Jess is written all over the face, and in the movements of Kate Fleetwood, the scene where she has to change clothes is uncomfortable for the audience to watch, but for the right reasons. The portrayal of pain comes almost entirely from the skilled performance with little reliance on flamboyant make-up.
Ralf Little is wonderful as Stevie, playing the awkward ex-boyfriend struggling to come to terms with seeing his former love in a new way. Little manages to convey the difficulty the character faces without coming across as crass or uncaring, in fact, the audience ends up feeling sympathetic to his situation.
Olivia Darnley plays sister, Kacie, with Kris Marshall as her boyfriend, Kelvin, they have good chemistry together but we don’t get to see enough of the relationship to understand the characters fully, especially in the case of Kelvin. Similarly, the sister’s relationship with their mother is often alluded to, and with more time an intriguing story arc could have played out.
Ugly Lies The Bone as a play itself is interesting, exploring some thought-provoking themes; the returning war hero, small town life and dementia. But what really elevates it is the stunning staging brought vividly to life through intricate video projections, designed by Luke Halls. The curved set lays out the whole town in relief, curling around the actors, and then the projections bring it to life, transforming it from day to night and inserting the everyday, like traffic speeding past. That’s just the real world! When Jess enters the virtual world, the whole set moves, spins, transforms and erupts in colour, all done through video and lighting projection, it is marvellous to behold and certainly adds another dimension to the play.
Ugly Lies The Bone takes an interesting story and elevates it with spectacular staging, the character of Jess is undergoing futuristic treatment, while the National Theatre seems to be stepping in to the future with this cutting-edge presentation.