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That Face
by Polly Stenham

PRODUCTION
NUMBER
407

Tue 17 - Sat 21 February 2015
The Playhouse Theatre, Clare Street, Northampton
 


CAST & CREW

Martha Patricia Coleman
Henry
Luke Nunn
Mia Amber Mae
Hugh Martin Williams
Izzy Clare Balbi
Alice Julie Hicks

Director Gary Amos
Stage Manager Samantha Walton
Lighting & Sound Philip Welsh
Costume Julie Hicks
Props Samantha Walton
Set Construction Mark Mortimer
Production Advisor Ian Spiby
Publicity & Programme Gary Amos
Print Supervisor Graham Follett
Front of House Masque Theatre members

REVIEW: 'Memorable but uncomfortable'
Barry Dougall


This is an intense ‘family drama’ and a challenging one for  performers and audience alike.

There is strong language, very little light and a great deal of shade but it is thoroughly absorbing throughout, even if some scenes make for uncomfortable watching.

The play was a big hit in 2007 at the Royal Court for the then 19 year old playwright Polly Stenham (comparisons with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee were made)  and had Northampton's own Matt Smith highly praised for his performance in it. A special message from Matt appears in the programme for this Masque production.

The play concerns a well off, middle class family, with divorced parents, successful father living abroad and an alcoholic, prescription drug popping mother cared for by her son who has dropped out of  school to look after her.

A younger daughter arrives home unexpectedly, suspended by her fee-paying school for involvement in a misguided initiation stunt which sends a younger girl pupil to hospital.

Mother and daughter do not get on, and there are ongoing tensions with her son,  thus setting the scene for highly charged emotional exchanges only enhanced when father returns from Hong Kong to attempt to sort out the mess.

Martha, the mother, is a hopeless drunk and addict, petulant, self pitying, who can be playful, even witty on occasions, but with disturbingly incestuous feelings for Henry, the dutiful and despairing son.

This is a most demanding role, fortunately for this production filled with distinction by Patricia Coleman, a veteran (if she will excuse the word!) of many a Masque show  over the years, and shining here, proving again, if proof were needed, that she has lost none of her powers as a most accomplished actress.

Amber Mae and Luke Nunn in That FaceAs Henry, young actor Luke Nunn  gives a very impressive, mature and intelligent performance in another difficult, highly emotional role.

In other roles, both Clare Balbi and Julie Hicks are well cast as Izzy and Alice, school contemporaries of Mia, Martha's daughter, played by Amber Mae. Clare captures most effectively Izzy’s casual, cruel and sadistic nature, while Julie, as Alice, the mute victim of the ill considered initiation ceremony at the school, is admirably stoic in her character's adversity.

Mia is perhaps the calmest of the characters that appear, not being fazed at Alice’s predicament, which she actually caused, and trying to cope with the fraught situation back home, though with little if any success.

Amber portrays all these aspects of this complex character well in a subtle and  very focused performance. One wonders if Mia is a partly autobiographical, as some aspects of Polly Stenham's life: middle class, a wealthy, succesful father, divorced parents, private school education, for instance, are similar, though not to this intensity, one would hope for her sake.

In the second Act, Hugh, the father returns from Hong Kong where he works as a succesful broker and lives with a new Oriental wife and baby.

He  tries to become more involved with his daughter, son and ex-wife, and endeavours to resolve the dire situation.

There are many old  tensions and ‘baggage’  between all the family members, and father has become particularly distant, if perhaps  a little less so with his daughter.

"A very capable, highly competent young director who has got the very best out of a talented cast in this challenging naturalistic drama."

There is much bitterness between the former husband and wife, Martha, berating Hugh, telling him, amongst other home truths that he obsessively craves ‘neatness’ in his life, and he clearly is repelled by the chaotic existence of his estranged family.

It's always good to see another Masque ‘veteran', Martin Williams, come on stage, and giving a typically assured performance as the father of this dysfunctional group.

Hugh has provided money but little else to his family, but now  seems determined to become involved and accept some responsibilty, though he is resolved that a solution will  include the unfortunate but necessary sectioning of his former wife.

Martha at the last  seems to realise the negative effect  her behaviour is having, particularly on her beloved Henry, and she makes a moving, belated, unselfish gesture as she accepts resignation to her fate. At the end one feels that a similar future might be in store  for the deeply disturbed  Henry before long as well.

That Face marks the directorial debut for Masque of Gary Amos, clearly a very capable, highly competent young director who has got the very best out of a talented cast in this challenging naturalistic drama.

Hopefully this will be the first of many productions from him. His setting, music, presentation, overall tone and understanding of the piece were all first rate.

That Face will certainly not be to everyone's taste, but should be a memorable, if sometimes uncomfort-able,  experience for  those who give it a chance.

It seems to me that Masque is in a particular rich vein of widely differing, interesting and exctiing productions of late: we have had such varied offerings  as Arsenic and Old Lace; Troilus and Cressida; Much Ado About Nothing; Becket; the musical Into the Woods;  now That Face, and with Our Town; Amadeus and Macbeth to follow . . . can't wait!

 

REVIEW: 'Unpromising material'
Owen Warr


Patricia Coleman and Martin Williams in That FaceWith the contemporary thirst for bondage and blindfolds thrust to the fore (a drugged and bewildered schoolgirl discovered in her dormitory before the lights had dimmed and the audience had settled in their seats), the attempt to procure suspension of disbelief was augmented by a musical score welded by heavy metallurgists.

The setting was unfortunately dominated by a large bed which restricted cast movements. While the aforesaid Heavy Metal mood music and a contrived ‘Apron stage’ enabled scenes to change swiftly, the failure to clear props and bed-clothes led to what will be claimed as a triumph for ‘existential minimalism’ in the stage-management department (and some confusion over changes in venue/ time).

"It is a sad commentary upon our contemporary society."

The programme notes remind us that the play was the brainchild of a 19-year-old woman. It is a sad commentary upon our contemporary society that within my short lifetime I can remember a period when the use of language now deployed without blushes by a young lady would have incurred well-deserved censure and a protest over the play’s content due to its disregard for values to which a population, still acknowledging an established Church, could point with pride as ‘normal’.

Patricia Coleman gave a controlled performance as the mother, Martha, and this complemented that of Luke Nunn, as the son who sank into ever worsening schizo-depressive stupors, to be exposed and cauterized with the arrival of Martha’s estranged husband, Hugh, played by Martin Williams with admirable conviction.

His daughter, Mia, played by Amber Mae and her school friends, Izzy (Clare Balbi) and Alice (Julie Wicks) all displayed versatility and competence in handling what must nevertheless be classed overall as unpromising material.

Perfunctory applause reflected the confused audience reaction elicited by the above reasons.

 

PREVIEW: 'Hard hitting family drama'
Gary Amos, Director


Publicity flyer for That FaceMia and Henry have long been dealing with their mother's alcoholism and drug addiction, but after a prank goes wrong at Mia's boarding school their estranged father returns to sort out the mounting problems.

With mother and son locked in an unhealthy companionship, a restless daughter fighting for meaning in her teenage life and an absent father who returns unaware of the damage that has befell his children, is their dysfunctional family finally beyond repair?

I am nervous and yet impatiently excited to reveal this hard-hitting family drama after months of intense preparation.

"You will see a funny and yet tragic story that will make you laugh, cry and sometimes both simultaneously."

Written by a 19-year-old Polly Stenham and premiering at The Royal Court in 2007 starring Northampton-born Matt Smith, That Face took the West End by storm, receiving an onslaught of accolades and awards and yet, remarkably, the play is still widely unknown and, to my knowledge, has never been performed in Northamptonshire. It is an honour and privilege to be able to stage it here. 

Having secured my fantastic cast in late November and roughly blocked the majority of the production before my Pantomime contract, I returned in January to a cast full of enthusiasm and excitement at the journey ahead.

I’d heard it said that casting is 90% of a director’s battle and here I can say it is true. I've laughed hysterically and I've been left speechless and emotional at their sheer level of intensity and commitment during rehearsals alone and I am immensely proud of them.

Having received a supportive good luck message from Matt Smith himself, I feel as if we, as a company, have been passed the torch and I know that what is to come will be nothing short of magical for audience and actor alike. 

You will see some old faces and some new faces.

You will see a funny and yet tragic story that will make you laugh, cry and sometimes both simultaneously.

This play and these characters will make you think and question, it will be flippant and fun and both shocking and disturbing but will be an experience you will never forget and I promise that if you buy a ticket to this show you will not be disappointed.

It is said so often but this is truly a production not to be missed.


Page last updated: 29/03/2015 Masque Theatre © 2015

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A scene from That Face

Amber Mae (Mia) and Luke Nunn (Henry). Photo by Graham Follett

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