Three tours of Afghanistan would leave anyone with a certain degree of emotional scars. For wounded veteran Jess, this is compounded by the physical scars she also carries following severe burns from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Battling constant and excruciating pain, as well as the psychological trauma from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jess turns to an unconventional and pioneering treatment, immersing herself in a Virtual Reality environment (based on the real-life virtual therapy game, Snow World) in her therapeutic search for effective pain relief and rehabilitation. Returning to her Florida childhood home, overlooking the NASA base where preparations for the next space launch risk triggering her PTSD at any time, can she rebuild her health, relationships and life?
With the exception of long-standing member Hazel Burrows, this is a relatively new cast, with three of the actors making their debut performances for Maskers, each bringing new strengths and charisma to the intimate Maskers Studio.
Emma Bates Garcia gives a committed and heartfelt performance in the demanding role of Jess, her mental anguish palpable, although less convincing with capturing the relentless pain and physical effects that Jess’s injuries would have incurred, while Suzanna Tompkins provides dependable support as her steadfast sister, Kacie.
Neil Maddock is terrific as Jess’ ex-boyfriend, Stevie, with a real aptitude for comedy while seamlessly switching to a more sensitive and vulnerable persona. Lee Taylor’s portrayal of Kacie’s boyfriend, Kelvin, is in turn irritating, funny, insensitive and then surprisingly perceptive to Kacie’s needs. It’s refreshing to see a play where the male characters are not written as chauvinistic boars!
Chris Moses’ video effects bring the virtual reality therapy sessions to the fore, accompanied to a Paul Simon soundtrack, while the ever-excellent Hazel Burrows’ off-stage coaching suggests she would do equally as well in audio dramas as she does on stage. The cast are consistently convincing with their American accents and the production is set at an essentially steady pace, with some very well-timed poignant pauses interspersed at appropriate moments.
Director Paul Green shows a desire to bring cutting-edge and thought-provoking productions to the stage, freely admitting that he’s “a bit bored with so-called ‘entertaining’ plays and the opinion that we need comedy and humour to offset all the bad things that are happening”. With a running time of just 90 minutes, Ugly Lies The Bone promises to be an intense, immersive, powerful and emotional play – and for large parts of it, it is.
The trouble for me is it seems to stay on the same level and not really explore the layers of emotional depths that have also been promised. Yes, I enjoy ‘entertaining’ plays and sometimes do just want relief from what’s happening in the world through sheer escapism. However, when intentionally challenged by a production, I also want to really ‘feel’ an emotional connection with the characters and the narrative, particularly when some things are left to the audience’s imagination, like Jess’s physical scars – and sadly on this occasion, I didn’t overall. Of course, theatre is subjective and what a boring world it would be if we all enjoyed the same things!
There are two more opportunities for you to form your own opinion (8.00pm on Friday 8 April and 7.30pm on Saturday 9 April) – it’s well worth the effort!