Mhari Brougham, director of Codpiece Theatre’s show Ugly gives us a sneak preview and reveals the ups and downs of the devising process.
Firstly, for people who don’t know about Codpiece Theatre, what’s it all about?
Codpiece Theatre is a devising society, devising new works and workshops. They hold workshops about different styles of theatre and they also help us learn how to do workshops ourselves, so teaching is a large part of Codpiece too.
How do you feel Ugly fits into Codpiece’s work?
I think that Codpiece are all about exploring things that haven’t been before and trying to give people the opportunity to say something different, seeing what they come up with in the devising process. Because Ugly is completely different it fits quite well in the sense that Codpiece are all about taking risks and doing something new, rather than scripted plays.
Essentially, what’s Ugly about?
It’s about our perceptions of physical appearance, of beauty and ugliness in the world we live in at the moment. We try and talk about different people’s experiences to get a feel of a range of stories. The show is split up into four sections: a section on transgender people, a section on Tinder and the male gaze and how males look at women, a section on the perception of black women and how they are often exoticized, rather being seen as innocent or pure, and then finally we have a section on girls who are very high maintenance, what some people would label as ‘bimbos’. Ugly explores why as a society we stereotype these people when the bottom line is that they are just mimicking the expectations we have already created for them.
Why did you create Ugly – what was your aim?
We wanted to create stories about people and their issues that aren’t talked about enough and represented in theatre, because even those represented, such as ‘bimbos’, are not seen in a good light. The characters of our stories are never given the chance to explain themselves in real life, so it’s brilliant that we have a good mix of people in our group, of different sexualities, races, ethnicities, with some people paying more or less attention to their appearances. It’s allowed us to share our varying experiences and bring them to the table, incorporating our own stories into the plot. For example, through Nia, and even my own experiences as a part black woman, we are able to show how casual racism still impacts us.
How many people are on the team?
Six in our cast – two boys and four girls. Then there’s me, the director, Lilith the producer and Dominic our set and costume manager.
What was your inspiration for Ugly then?
The initial idea came from hearing a woman on the radio talk about how the story of the Ugly Duckling wasn’t a good message for her daughter because essentially the moral of the story and the ‘happy’ ending is that she ends up beautiful. I played around with this fairy tale concept in my A-level but it didn’t fall into place, so when Codpiece’s opportunity came around it was perfect. I had the freedom to really play around with the concepts and see what I came up with. Physical theatre has inspired me a lot, including companies such as DV8, helped in terms of a movement perspective. One of our sections of the play is also based on chair duets, a concept taken from Frantic Assembly, the physical theatre company.
What has been the most challenging thing so far?
Probably first of all the time frame – with five weeks to create the show there’s always too much you want to do so deleting scenes and figuring out what’s necessary for Ugly has been quite hard. But it’s also been interesting to see how efficient we started working!
What’s been your favourite aspect of the play?
Just watching it grow – coming from the beginning with just me and an application form, writing down ideas of what I wanted to explore and having that as my ‘seed’, and then working with the group and watching it blossom over the past five weeks. It’s been so much fun working with everybody and becoming friends with them all and realizing that despite us all being very different we’re all human and have tackled the same things, even if they’ve been in a different way or context.
Finally, if you had to sum up the show in three words what would you say?
A thought-provoking piece!
Ugly will be showing on the 16th and 17th February at 7pm in the Avon Drama Studio.