Ugly Mugs – based on the name sex workers use for aggressive clients – focuses on the disturbing and at times dangerous reality of life in the Australian sex industry.

Set in Melbourne, the play opens in a cold, steely morgue with the almost sympathetic coroner (Steve Le Marquand) conducting an autopsy on a murdered sex worker (Peta Brady). Playing the part of her own ghost, Brady’s dark-humoured recount of her character’s experiences as a sex worker, as well as the events leading up to her violent and untimely death, have a brutal and honest edge to them. At the same time, the coroner seems to resonate a distant sympathy, yet also a sense of having seen one too many murdered women in his time.

Meanwhile, another story between a socially awkward teenage boy (Harry Borland), a seemingly fearless yet sometimes irrational girl (Sara West) and a sex predator (Le Marquand) is also unravelling in a suburban park. As the plot unfolds, the end result once again points towards a violent and tragic outcome.

Through the rather bleak stories and characters, who all just want to be loved and remembered in some way, Ugly Mugs asks questions about the vulnerability of women and the aggression and violence that sometimes faces them – not only within the sex industry, but in society in general.

Although the play’s storyline is a little disjointed, it is still definitely worth the investment. Brady’s powerful performance and Borland’s dynamic stage presence are both haunting and captivating. Yet it is the grim reality of the subject matter and the fact Ugly Mugs puts a face to what we read as just another statistic that make it a must-see.

3.5/5 stars

Ugly Mugs is playing at SBW Stables Theatre until Saturday August 23.

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