Monday, 19 September 2016

#ReadaPlayaWeek: Two Lips Indifferent Red

It’s not always possible to see every play. This initiative (in its third year) encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices. The plays from the first half of this year can be seen here.

Week 38: Tamsin Oglesby’s Two Lips Indifferent Red (1995)

This play is interested in a world of surfaces. Set in the world of cat walks, models, beauty parlours and cosmetic surgeons, Two Lips Indifferent Red focuses on the moral implications of changing your body in the name of beauty. Angela is considering several operations that her cosmetic surgeon husband Andrew has offered her for her birthday. If this makes Andrew sound like a bit of a dick then you’re not wrong. He comes up with crude limericks about his clients, it seems like he couldn’t cope being married to a fat person, and he has shattered his relationship with his daughter by making her have a nose job. He also comes packaged with some under baked ideas about copies of art which invites parallels to be made about fake body parts. He’s an unsympathetic character that perhaps seems cartoonish. In fact, when we first see Andrew he is holding a ‘scalpel menacingly over Angela’ in a nightmare sequence. The other major characters in the play are more rounded. Angela and Andrew’s daughter Jo is a model and although she’s a rather good one she has more substance than her peers and decides to train as a photographer.

Oglesby’s play skewers the nineties obsession with excess. In many ways it reminds me of Absolutely Fabulous, no more so in a scene between Jo and Angela where after a while I gave up and started imagining Julia Sawalha and Jennifer Saunders. Their sense of humour and character dynamics are very similar to that of Saffie and Eddy in the sitcom. The surgeons, the models and the beauticians are all to some extent obsessed with aesthetic beauty. The beauticians talk about the ugliest person they know and the models vie to be noticed by a photographer. It is a play which satirises what we apparently value (or did in the nineties). As one character says, ‘I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be sexy’.

Sometimes when reading a play, I suppose that it is natural to play director, trying to imagine how it might be staged. Two Lips Indifferent Red flits between multiple settings. To create some sort of unity on the stage (especially in as small a space as the Bush Theatre where it was originally staged) I guess it would be interesting to see how the brilliant white of a fashion photoshoot is visually similar to but also different (in terms of mood) from the sterile white of a surgeon’s clinic.


Oglesby’s play is an entertaining, often very funny one about surface appearances. However beneath that there is a lot of substance to the mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

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