Red Stitch Actors Theatre
30 April 2010
That Face is the show I'm going to be comparing everything else to for the rest of the year.
UK writer Polly Stenham was 19 when she wrote That Face. Within a year it was leaving Royal Court audiences gob smacked and transferred to The Duke of York Theatre in the West End. It's appearing in major company programs all over the world and Melbourne can thank our theatre gods that Red Stitch secured it for us.
With a balance of black comedy and gut-kick emotion, Strenham's world sits on a precipice of uncomfortable familiarity letting its audience fall into its depths and crawl out reeling.
Teenage Mia turns to her brother Henry for help after an incident with Valium and an initiation at her boarding school, but Henry has already dropped out of school to look after their alcoholic mother and only the thought of their wealthy and absent father returning can kick him into action, or the attention of Mia's friend Izzy.
With unfair choices and impossible dilemmas, Strenham's debut work belies her age dramatically and emotionally. Her adults are seen through the eyes of her teenagers, which reveals the raw impact of their behaviour on their children without forcing blame. Mother Martha nods to her Whose Afraid of Virgina Wolf namesake and surpasses Albee's Martha with her out of control controlling behaviour. And Strenham brings a refreshing authenticity to her teenage characters that lets them feel deeply and irrationally without the condescending tone often implied by more "mature" writers.
The Red Stitch creative team capture the truth and heart of this remarkable script. Sarah Giles direction sustains a propelling tension that allows moments of relief without ever letting the underlying questions fade or allowing the extreme characters to control the pace or focus. Claude Marcos's design feels at one with the direction and uses the small Red Stitch stage to it's full advantage by making the dominating bed a sunken level and adding a carpet wall that brings its own welcome wit.
Tim Potter as Henry was selected for Red Stitch's first Graduate Programme in 2008 and is already one of Melbourne's most astonishing actors. Matt Smith (the new Dr Who) was the original Henry and Potter should soon be as well known and respected. Lauren Henderson (Mia) and Lucy Honigan (Izzy) bring a rare clarity and depth to their teen girls. Dion Mills (Hugh) gives the strongest performance I've seen from him and Sarah Sutherland's Martha is as complex as the character's addiction and her scenes with Potter are reason enough to see That Face.
Red Stitch quietly put our larger companies to shame. See That Face for an an adrenaline shot to remind you that theatre can and should be this bloody brilliant.
This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.