Beauty is an intense and narratively daring look at the unravelling of the life of Tybalt “Ty” Jackson (Gregor Haddow), a renowned Scottish photographer whose quest to find the perfect image to leave a lasting impact on the world is jeopardised by allegations of underage sex with his teenage models. This affects not only Ty’s career but his relationship with French model Heloise (Laura Jimenez) and attracts the attention of undercover journalist Justine (Wendy Brindle), who is looking for a story…
Claire Wood’s script manages to present Ty as a morally ambiguous figure, not falling into the trap of making the character either a sleazy paedophilic stereotype or a misunderstood wholly innocent artist. Wood has Ty making compelling arguments for wanting to create the perfect work of art, invoking the works of Handel as examples to Justine. However, she also details his interactions with bubbly fourteen year old Tiffany (Miriam Thomson) and the socially conscious, ambitious Ruby (Lauryn Murray) involve alcohol and in the case of Ruby, an uneasy kiss, which suggest otherwise. In addition, the death of Victoria, who modelled for Ty’s most famous photo, further implies that Ty has more than a few skeletons in his closet.
This ambiguity allows Wood to provide a more balanced view of a situation that is currently topical as a result of Operation Yewtree, which has resulted in the implosion of the careers of previously well-regarded celebrities. Wood’s unbiased perspective prevents the play from either coming across as a one-dimensional witch hunt or as making an excuse for sexually inappropriate behaviour with minors in the name of art.
An example of this is the subplot involving Justine posing as an enquiring mother of a prospective model in order to entrap Ty and supposedly expose him as a sex offender. When this results in the artist falling in love with her, it reveals that his perspective on beauty is not limited to teenage girls. The only criticism with Wood’s script is that some of the dialogue is a little on the nose, with characters occasionally declaring their motives and perspectives on art and beauty in an obvious, didactic manner that feels somewhat unnatural in comparison with the rest of the play.
The play features strong performances all around from the cast, with Haddow in particular giving the strongest performance of the night as Ty. He effectively conveys the character’s passion for his work but also an underlying aggression and fascination that hints at his darker aspects. Jimenez also provides Heloise with a passionate energy as she tries to keep hold of not only her boyfriend but also their stable life together, although some of her earlier lines were slightly hard to understand due to her rushed delivery of them.
Beauty is a narratively compelling and professionally staged production asking difficult questions about art, celebrity and morality. A must-see for fans of thought-provoking theatre.