The innocuously titled That Face, written by Polly Stenham at the age of 19, revolves around the often-overlooked, behind-closed-doors world of turbulent family life and its accompanying baggage.
To designer Adam Wiltshire’s backdrop of a boarding-school dormitory, Mia Hollie Gordon, the protagonist’s daughter, initially denies involvement in the drugging of an innocent inductee with a 40mg dose of valium, only to eventually state emotionlessly that the overdose was “not poison” but rather “a mild tranquiliser”.
From here on in the tone of this clearly dysfunctional family is apparent as the scene morphs to a worn home – the expression used in the loosest of terms – replete with empty vodka bottles and vague, half-developed sketchings.
The family’s flawed relations are further highlighted by the incestual relationship – played out upon the spotlit mattress – between Martha Kathryn Howden, the alcoholic, self-indulgent mother of the nest, and her son Henry James Young.
Young delivers a tremendous performance; his emotions ranging from red mists of rage to tearful breakdowns, leaving the unmistakably appreciative audience in no doubt over his plight in attempting to salvage the scattered pieces of his own tribe.
After the resolution of some domestic confusion, another impressive performance is turned in by the family’s father, Hugh Phil McKee, who scuttles home from his Chinese mistress in Hong Kong in order to try to resolve the ongoing crisis. McKee’s role adds a further, dramatic tension to the play’s outcome; as he ensures the continuation of his daughter’s education, stating in a certain tone that boarding school is but a “passport” to further life, and all the while exhorting the importance of psychotherapy to his ex-wife.
Clearly a contemporary, class-focused show, this commendable 90-minute West End smash is all the more remarkable given the playwright’s youth. By turn, dangerous, unstable and volatile, it is one to see at the soonest available opportunity.
- Jamie Kempton