Polly Stenham’s That Face was written in 2007 when she was just 19 years old, and it receives its first revival this winter at the Landor Theatre in Clapham. Tara Robinson, whose recent roles include Associate Director with the Michael Grandage Company for the season at the Noel Coward Theatre, directs the revival at this small studio theatre, found above a friendly pub with excellent mulled wine.
Upon entering the space, the audience is greeted by calm, soft piano music that jars with the sight of a girl bound up at the wrists with a hood over her head tied to a bed. The audience are seated in diagonally opposing corners, with the set in the middle being composed simply of the bed. This becomes the link between scenes and, as the family’s façade implodes, the bed and surrounding area slowly become as messy as their lives. The set is simple but effective, transforming from a boarding school dorm, to a hospital, restaurant and apartment over the course of the play.
That Face is the story of a family that is breaking apart; a family that can’t stand to be together yet can’t survive without each other. Mia steals Martha’s Valium, and Henry drinks Martha’s booze; Martha, however, happens to be their mother. All the tensions that have simmered under the surface for so long are brought out into the open when Mia is involved in a boarding school initiation prank that goes wrong, and Henry and Mia’s estranged father must return from abroad to pick up the pieces.
…falling apart in front of his family’s eyes…
The entire cast is incredibly strong in their portrayals of Stenham’s characters. Caroline Wildi is a standout as the emotionally manipulative Martha, as is Stephanie Hyam as Mia. Rory Fleck Bryne’s Henry is also very affecting as the intermediary keeping the peace between Mia and Martha, but falling apart in front of his family’s eyes in the gripping denouement.
That Face works well in the small space of the Landor, as the audience are brought right into the drama alongside the actors. There is no room for cast or audience to breathe in this intense and challenging 90 minutes of theatre. The play considers difficult themes such as addiction and dependency in a sharply scripted and accessible text that veers from dark humour and Waitrose jokes to familial confrontations and shattered relationships. This new revival of That Face is definitely worth catching on its short run in Clapham.
That Face runs from the 12 November to December 1