‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They don’t mean to, but they do.’
-This Be the verse,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they h
And add some extra,Polly Stenham’s semi-autobiography play That Face is a turbulent take on the kitchen sink drama genre. The play is a relative newborn in comparison with most of TG’s previous work, as it only premiered at the Royal Court in 2007. Contemporary and unforgivingly taut, That Face is emotionally demanding, requiring unwavering attention, both from the cast and audience. First time director George Howard speaks of his passion for That Face in his director’s note, encountering the play in typically unconventional circumstances; ‘sitting in complete solitude in a dingy kitchen pre-Hifi.’ This trendy and slightly harrowing context is hugely fitting when considering the play, and is possibly the perfect environment in which to obtain your first dose of Polly Stenham.
The cast was compact and well chosen; each character a damaged piece of matter caught in the orbit of the mentally ill and manipulative mother character, Martha, played by Lucie Turner. I was informed after seeing the production that Turner only learnt the part a week ago due to the original actress sadly having to drop out of the play. This is truly impressive work, not only did she not falter once, Turner’s delivery conjured up an atmosphere of tension and stale desperation that grew throughout the performance. Despite there being a slight glut of the old clichéd ‘crazy lady’ gesticulation and eye rolling at the beginning, I think this can afford to be overlooked.
The world of mainstream theatre criticism would refer to leading lad Iggy Jeffery, (and without a doubt will,) as ‘one to watch.’ Taking on the role of Henry, Martha’s rock, (and thus the burnt out planet closest to the dying star,) Jeffery commanded the stage in way that was beautiful and painful to watch. Desperately trying to cling to his sanity in the midst of an impending catastrophe, Jeffery surrendered himself to the role. The kind of actor that reacts to every subtle change that takes place and transmits a strange force that allows you to forget you are in a theatre, if Iggy Jeffery does not pursue professional acting as a career, I will never forgive him.
Cavorting around the stage as the poisonous and beautiful Izzy, Claire O’Shea becomes the girl we all love to hate. An infinitely stronger, younger and possibly more dangerous version of the Martha character, Izzy pushes her way into the damaged family by seducing Henry and exploiting the daughter Mia’s (Verity Blyth) already warped and aggressive conception of morality. O’Shea uses her beauty and radiance to deceive, and this deception extended successfully to the audience, leaving most people in the conundrum that Henry finds himself in, fully aware that Izzy is very bad news, but unable to resist her.
The father character of Hugh was meticulously well observed and faultlessly portrayed by Jake Williams. Casting my mind’s eye across the actors I know at university, I can’t think of many other boys who could convincing portray a much older, dysfunctional father figure as convincingly as Williams does. The kind of father that sees Am Ex as a convenient substitute for love and affection, the tense and tragically hilarious scene between Hugh and Mia was a highlight of the play for me. Parental relationships are often difficult to portray given than most of us eighteen to twenty somethings have simply not got the necessary emotional memory to recreate the relationship between a father and daughter, however Blyth’s stroppiness and William’s bullshit combined to hit the bleakness of the situation home to us.
One slight criticism I do have is the lack of chemistry between Hugh and Martha. Their relationship felt massively out of place, it was as if we needed more emotional evidence of their back-story, for example, why had a man as self consumed and materialistic become involved with someone like Martha, and how had they managed to stay together long enough to produce two children? This is not so much a criticism of the acting as of the script, but I still feel that more could be done to show Martha’s bitterness towards Hugh, as occasionally Turner did not hit the mark of spurned wife, and came across as disinterested and scoffing. There needed to be much more awkwardness, sexual tension and sadness of the kind that, from my experience is often tangible in separated couples.
All things considered, Howard and Lewis’ production of That Face was enviably professional, fashionably dysfunctional and distressingly well acted. In my opinion That Face is the only production I have seen this year that, in terms of acting, stands eye to eye with Chris Bennell and LianaTelvi’s Streetcar Named Desire that was produced through TG last year.