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Superb portrayal of veteran’s agony and the scars beneath

REVIEW

Ugly Lies The Bone

Lyttelton, National Theatre

★★★★☆

YOUR name is Jess, a former female American soldier in Afghanistan. You were blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and consumed by fire. Now home in Florida, your body is swathed in elasticated clothing to protect your skin grafts and you live with pain that on a scale of one to ten hovers above seven, unless you turn because someone called your name or you put on a summer dress, when it shoots to a level for which no number is high enough.

If ever a play needed two comedy distractions, this exploration of war’s aftermath and the pain-relieving qualities of virtual reality is it.

Cue sitcom specialists Ralf Little (The Royle Family and Two Pints Of Lager…) and Kris Marshall (My Family) who play two boyfriends. Little’s Stevie is Jess’s spineless ex who is too scared of scars to visit her, while Marshall plays Kelvin, the slacker boyfriend of Jess’s sister.

The men here are weak and simple, qualities embodied by Stevie, who works in a Nasa souvenir shop and gets IEDs confused with IUD contraceptives. But the stars of Indhu Rubasingham’s production are Kate Fleetwood, who superbly captures Jess’s physical and psychological trauma, and the eye-popping design that embraces this huge stage in a virtual reality cocoon to depict Jess’s VR therapy.

Design and performance do Lindsey Ferrentino’s uneven writing a favour. There is nothing virtual about Jess’s condition as the singing Fleetwood trills her way through the agony of dressing.

But empathy evaporates when Ferrentino’s smart heroine picks a fist fight.

Still, you leave wowed by special effects and with an indelible sense of Jess’s reality.