Whatever a ‘normal' childhood is supposed to be, Stone Face reminds us that you just can't overestimate the importance of having one. Loosely inspired by the notorious Josef Fritzl case, Eve Leigh's new play imagines a girl named Catherine who is discovered, at age 15, shut up in a London flat which she may never have left.
Sad stories like these are forever appearing in the news. And the triumph of Room at this year's Oscars shows that there's real appetite for drama exploring the many questions they raise - however gruelling such a drama might prove for actors and audience alike.
Stone Face asks whether a child who's been rescued from a state of presumed captivity can develop social skills and language over a period of years. A second strand, meanwhile, concerns the tough dilemmas faced by the people who come into contact with that child.
A show-making performance sees Ellie Turner play Catherine. Her early years spent in a crib, Catherine can neither walk nor talk properly – and Turner's challenge is to allow the character to ‘speak' almost entirely through her bodily movements.
Catherine's psychiatrist is Dr Cutler, played sympathetically by Liz Jadav. Over time, doctor and patient develop an understanding which is largely non-linguistic: based in horseplay, slapstick jokes, and sometimes Catherine's curiosity for touching Cutler's body in the wrong places. These scenes are funny now and then, and always arresting.
Both performers also have roles in the second strand – a worthy inclusion, but which isn't always easy to transition to as it's so much fiercer. It looks at the sorry state of Britain's mental healthcare. There's Catherine's sister Ali, desperately scraping together money for the therapy, and Mel, a slightly two-dimensional journalist character who helps Ali with a crowd-funding project, but who is only ever interested in steering the whole venture into a ‘good story'.
The actors switch between characters with some interesting actions while darkness falls between scenes - although the lighting is perhaps a shade too dim so you may not realise it at first.
Some occasional rawness here and there is perhaps no bad thing for a story like this, though. It's a production which wrenches such hope and frustration out of its source material, ensuring that director Roy Alexander Weise finds a nice parallel between the events themselves and the very laborious process of psychiatric investigation.
Stone Face runs at the Finborough Theatre until 11 June.