Two Lips Indifferent Red / Bush Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
It's theoretically possible that one day I will see a politically unpredictable fringe play - a colonialist comedy, a two-hander in praise of patriarchy, a polemical monologue indicting the homeless for bringing their plight on themselves; but the emphasis here is firmly on the "theoretically". To know that Tamsin Oglesby's Two Lips Indifferent Red is about the beauty industry and cosmetic surgery is also to know, in effect, what its attitude is going to be, and to know that, whatever theatrical surprises the evening may have in store, you aren't going to come out of the Bush marvelling at the service to society performed by those wonderful cosmetic surgeons, tidying up all the ugly, flabby people who would otherwise be such an eyesore on our streets.

The obviousness of Oglesby's point wouldn't matter if her treatment of it weren't also obvious. The plot revolves around the relationship between Jo, a successful catwalk model (played by former model Saffron Burrows, above), and her mother Angela (Fiona Mollison), a mature student. Both feel trapped by Jo's good looks - Jo has a strong line in philosophy and would rather be a photographer; Angela finds in her daughter a constant reminder of her own age and fading charms.

This relationship is established with some plausibly tense, back-stabbing dialogue. But the situation's moral potential is wrecked by the presence of Andrew, Jo's father and Angela's husband, a cosmetic surgeon with an endearing line in grim pre-op humour (he heads off to a liposuction with a merry cry of "All hands to the pump") and no other redeeming qualities - having already messed up a nose-job for Jo, destroying her sense of smell, he's now boosting Angela's confidence by offering her a turn on the operating table as a birthday present. It may be the case that all cosmetic surgeons are insensitive monsters on this scale; but you feel that we're dealing in the realm of theoretical probabilities here. The effect is to weaken Oglesby's case - the unintended implication seems to be, not that cosmetic surgery has bad effects but that clumsily offered cosmetic surgery has bad effects; we need more persuasive salesmen on the case.

There are some incidental pleasures in Vicky Featherstone's production - solid central performances by Burrows and Mollison, and strong support from Rebecca Blake and Sarah Coomes, doubling as a pair of brainless catwalk models and a pair of brainless beauticians (you feel Oglesby doesn't have a great deal of respect for women who go into the beauty industry). The beauticians in particular get some jolly one-liners - arguing over whether Madonna is a pornographer or not ("I just wouldn't want to be the cause of anyone getting an erection unless I was there with them in the same room to do something about it"). But these are really caricatures; it's ironic that while Oglesby has set out to write a play about the evils of a society that judges people by their looks, her characterisations only go skin-deep.

n To 7 Oct. Booking: 0181-743 3388