Written and directed by Lucy Matthews, Musical Direction by Dom Parker
Reviewed by Charlotte Smee
In Ugly Love, or what my friends and I have dubbed “Polyamory the Musical”, a couple who’ve been married for nine years find they’ve fallen into a rut. The only way out is to open up their relationship; and when Jess (LJ Wilson) meets the enchanting songstress Lola (Cypriana Singh) at a local queer bar things get…complicated. With poppy, ear-wormy songs, and some shining moments of comedy and connection – this show tackles the weight of a complex topic with a light-hearted approach.
Musical direction and arrangement by Dom Parker and Charlie George are poppy and fun, carrying the energy of the show right the way through. The band stars in their own “club” scene when Singh seduces Jess, and they clearly have a lot of fun doing it. My only complaint was the questionable use of electric over acoustic drums, that meant sound levels suffered and artificial layers cut through other parts of each song. Set and costumes by Kate Beere were simple, turning a stage platform into the bedrooms of various pairings of characters and setting up a cosy bar with café table and chairs in the corner of the stage.
Madelaine Osborn as Maddi and Michelle is the real star of this show, bringing effervescent energy and a charming soundboard for Wilson’s Jess when she struggles most to communicate her needs. Her ability to switch from fun party girl to serious career-polyamorous-queer is convincing and fun to watch. Lincoln Elliot as Jess’s husband Sam, Lola’s offsider James and briefly as Maddi’s partner Gus is suitably brooding, straight and not straight all at the right times. Wilson’s angst is a great foil to Elliot’s soft confusion, and they bring some good moments of vocal power in ‘Check Yourself’ and ‘Swing’.
Writing and direction by Lucy Matthews is ambitious, and very funny in parts. The characters are well drawn and play off each other quite well. Polyamory and queerness by their nature are complex, nuanced topics, and it’s such a joy to see something like this represented with care on the stage. I particularly liked that there were multiple kinds of polyamorous relationships shown, in positive and negative lights. Jess and Sam struggle with the level of communication needed in an open relationship, and this is true to life!
What I found lacking in this show was something that made the stakes consistently high enough to keep me watching. The best kinds of stories that represent marginalised identities and communities are those that tell a story that “so happens to be” queer/different, rather than focussing on queerness/difference itself as a plot device. This “Polyamory the Musical” didn’t go far enough into the world of story, so much so that some emotional and musical highs felt like they weren’t earned.
Nevertheless, a brave, interesting and upbeat representation of queer, polyamorous relationships on the small stage, Ugly Love is a little number for the queerdos out there. If the measure of a musical is whether you can get the songs out of your head weeks later – this one is a winner.
Ugly Love played at the Flight Path Theatre from Thursday, July 14 to Saturday, July 23, 2022. You can find out more about Acoustic Theatre Troupe on their website here or by following them on Instagram @acoustic_theatre
Writer and director: Lucy Matthews
Movement director: Miriam Slater
Intimacy Coordinator: Shondelle Pratt
Musical Director: Dom Parker
Musical Arrangement: Charlie George
Dramaturg: Ylaria Rogers
Lighting Design: James Wallis
Sound Design: Keith Muir
Set and Costume Design: Kate Beere
Sound Operator: Linus Karsai
Stage Manager: Tess Bourguignon
Assistant Stage Manager: Beatrix Boon
Produced by Acoustic Theatre
Jhoan Sebastian Bonilla Bautista
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