This review contains significant spoilers.
Playwright Tahli Corin is one on a long list of Adelaide playwrights moved interstate. It is all too rare to see plays by these writers in Adelaide: second-hand reports come in from Sydney, a few will travel to see it and come back, but the reasons they leave are certainly evident. No less than three ex-South Australian playwrights have works debuting at Griffin Theatre in Sydney this year, including Corin, and it is wonderful to see ONFG giving One for the Ugly Girls its Adelaide premiere, directed here by Adriana Bonaccurso.
Alistair (Syd Brisbane) is an artist whose work hangs in the National Gallery. Suffering from a block in his work resulting from his wife’s death, he hires life model Jade (Lori Bell) for inspiration. When Jade arrives, though, she doesn’t match the picture of what he had in his head – or of the image that was posted on the website. After an initial conflict, the two settle into an antagonistic relationship: each pushing each other’s comfort and buttons, until Jade manages to show Alistair a way back into his art.
The audience soon learn that this Jade isn’t the model from the website at all, and eventually with the appearance of the real Jade (Hannah Norris), the first woman is revealed to be Claire, her step-sister. Out with the old and in with the new, as Alistair replaces the raw and contentious Claire with the shiny veneer of Jade.
There is a slight clumsiness to this turning point in the production which neither Corin nor Bonaccurso have managed to resolve. As an audience, we have been given no hints as to how much Alistair himself knew about the manipulation, nor why he was so happy to go along with it for so long. Was it a simple case of loneliness, of the simple energy that is generated their fights? But then why is he so fickle as to replace one with the other so quickly?