Review: That Face

Hemma Jari 1 March 2019
Image Credit: That Face via Facebook

★★★★

This year’s Christ’s freshers’ play is Polly Stenham’s That Face, a dark examination of a family falling apart and its effects on its members’ emotional and mental states. It’s a play about role reversal, chaos and toxic family relationships, and it showcased the talent and skill of acting, direction and set design in particular by those involved.

Walking into the theatre the audience is greeted with a bedroom reflective of the lives of its characters – chaotic, messy and falling apart. Set designer Rose Schechter has created an intelligent set that acts as a metaphor not just for Martha’s (Hannah Ramezani) life and mental state, but also for her relationship with her son Henry (Chater Paul Jordan) in particular and for the state of the entire family. The “feminine” features of the room – discarded high heels, women’s clothes, etc – as well as its numerous alcohol bottles suggest to us that this is Martha’s room, so we are jolted to later discover that it is in fact Henry’s. The set is from then on a symbol of how Martha’s mental state is bleeding into Henry’s life and affecting him.

The opening scene of the play firmly establishes the atmosphere of the ensuing ones, with Giulia Armiero’s Mia and Clara Morel’s Izzy clearly portraying the overarching idea of the danger of living in a liminal space without adults. It is the following scene however that establishes the two stand-out performances of the play: Ramezani’s Martha and Jordan’s Henry. The complex, arguably toxic dynamic of their relationship was clear to the audience within the first few lines of dialogue. This persists throughout the play, completing a full-circle with the final scene of the performance: Henry, wearing Martha’s nightie, behaves in the same way that she does when she wore the very garment in their first scene. This is subtle and clever direction from Ella Gold and Charissa Cheong.

There is excellent acting from all the actors, who manage to completely embody the complex and difficult roles in a way that is so believable that the audience is completely drawn in, making the plot much more affecting. Ramezani and Jordan in particular inhabit all the dark corners of the minds of their characters, filling their interactions with layers of toxicity, love and complexity; Oliver O’Brien gives a strong performance as the absent, defective father, Hugh.