Neil LaBute’s sharp and funny play, which dates from 2008 in New York, is the third part of a “beauty trilogy” - following The Shape of Things and Fat Pig - in which the quality of hearsay is considerably more than skin deep.
There’s a troubling honesty about LaBute’s contention that we find out about people only after we consider what they look like; it’s probably true, though we may not care to admit it, that getting to know someone starts by dealing with their outward show.
So the scathing row between Greg and Steph which is in full swing as the play starts boils down to the fact that Steph’s heard that Greg described her face to his friend, Kent, as just “regular.” Some of us would settle for that, but not Steph: she’s seriously on the warpath.
The scene is so brilliantly played by Tom Burke and Sian Brooke that you fear for the rest of the play. If that’s the issue, what happens for the next two hours?
We soon find out when Greg’s workmate at the factory, Kent, married to the beautiful but attitude-free security guard, Carly (“What’s she gonna do, smile them to death?”), starts sniggering about his campaign of seduction elsewhere in the workplace.
Burke’s innocently decent Greg – who reads Swift and Hawthorne, don’t you know – is deliberately contrasted with the locker room jock-ness of Kieran Bew’s perfectly cast Kent, and only a writer as good as LaBute could get away with such obvious schematics.
As Brooke’s Steph retreats to another relationship – but not before itemising Greg’s faults, which include squinty eyes, too hairy testicles (and presumably two hairy testicles) and a habit of biting his own toenails – so Billie Piper’s delightful Carly progressively proves that she is, well, just a pretty face; and pretty faces have feelings, too.
Michael Attenborough’s deft and sensitively pitched production is played inside a huge container, designed by Soutra Gilmour, which revolves and flips open to reveal various locations where Greg in effect receives a series of lessons in loving.
His buddy relationship ends in tears and violence, his romantic one in a strengthening sense of loss. And then you realise that the bedroom set-to was prologue to a scabrous contemporary romantic comedy.