Plastic at the Ustinov - Bath Comedy Show Review

Posted on: 2017-03-01

Our rating:

A contemporary comedy but far cleverer then your usual soap opera

I always look forward to going to the Ustinov and have seen many shows that have been brewed here and then transferred to the West End (Bad Jews to name one). This comedy is the first in this year’s season of plays that mark the ongoing excellence of the Ustinov’s productions under the artistic direction of Laurence Boswell.


This is a ‘German’ season following on from the broad range of previous years – a French Canadian, a Spanish Golden Age, an American season and so on. This, Mayenburg’s most recent play, portrays a set of conflicts played out between an urban middle class family, their cleaner, and an arrogant conceptual artist. It is a contemporary comedy of manners but far cleverer then your usual soap opera.

Plastic at the Ustinov

The title ‘Plastic’ seems to encapsulate the essence of this fashion conscious, insecure, bubble of people; tied into a circular game of blame and attack in a bid to defend their fragile sense of purpose. The only one who seems to know where they are going in life is the cleaner, Jessica, coolly played by Ria Zmitrowicz.


The concisely designed set, representative of a contemporary Berlin apartment, reminded me of the Tate Modern. Austere grays and plain concreate surfaces highlight any objects or action placed within it, and although this is understandable for an art gallery it underpins the play's sense of falseness; the characters want life to reflect art, rather than the other way round. The home setting is dominated by Ulrike, played by Charlotte Randle, capable but domineering who, as a modern woman, has her cake and eats it. But independence, career, motherhood and high status don’t free her from behaving like a nineteenth century bourgeois – she tells her husband off for leaving spare change around – after all it may tempt the servants. The husband, Michael, correspondingly, despite a successful medical career sees it as no more than an anticipated life pattern that comes to mean little to him, but then can’t express joy when something he has long dreamed of finally presents itself – it seems too unsafe. Obsessions with cleanliness and order, easily provoke laughter in the UK audience as it conforms to our stereotyped notions of German behavior. However, when (the degenerate) demanding and quick witted Haulupa, the conceptual artist Ulrika works for, enters the fry and elevates Jessica’s status from cleaner to art object and muse, the anxieties and concerns voiced by the characters soon reflects those of the audience – how do we construct value and meaning in our lives today, are we really just holding on to a sense of continuity established long before our stuffy grandparents!  

Plastic at the Ustinov

The fabulous comic skills of the three adults are offset by the different pace and smooth focus of Jessica, as mentioned, who has the last word, and by a striking performance from Brenock O’Connor as Vincent, the teenage son. It is Vincent who finally breaks down barriers and offers an image of flux and change – but can we accept it?


Get your tickets for Plastic, which runs until 25th March, here

Article by:

Vicky Vatcher

Vicky is involved with the local arts community, teaching performing arts and also writing theatre/circus reviews. She's been living and happily eating her way round Bath for 12 years. And in her words "I mean to go on as I started!"