By Chloe D’Arcy
Polly Stenham’s That Face first hit the stage in 2007 to great acclaim, especially impressive considering it was Stenham’s debut. Now DramaSoc’s Ashley Milne has taken on the play for this weekend’s showcase (15-17 February).
That Face is a play centred around family dynamics: Martha (Lucia Rimini) is the alcoholic mother spiralling into mental decline; Henry (James Chetwood) is the adoring son who drops out of school to care for his sick mother and gradually begins drinking under her influence; Mia (Lisa Gould) is the daughter, always second-best in her mother’s eyes, leading her to steal her mother’s prescription medication and drug Alice, a younger student (Emma Scott) at school – a clear cry for help, despite her denial; Hugh (Leo Jarvis), we meet around the second half of the play, is the absent father who now spends his time in Japan with his ‘second family’, only coming home to intervene when things have escalated to the extreme.
The play opens with a disturbing scene: a chair centre stage, with Alice bound to it and a hood over her head, her head lolling forwards. Besides this the stage is bare except for a translucent gauze at the back, slightly obscuring two people sleeping, which only adds to the sense that they are in a dorm room at a boarding school. It is at the play’s opening that the elements of dark humour start to filter through during the back-and-forth between Izzy and Mia; as they fear that Alice is dead.
That Face continues much in the same way from then on. Normality is thrown out the window as we see Henry’s decline alongside his mother’s. The staging is kept simple, mainly consisting of a double bed being moved around and reused in different settings. This is very effective, as a bed should be a place of rest and comfort, yet the most gut-wrenching scenes of the play take place on this bed, which demonstrates the inversion of normality. Likewise, the lining of both the left and right walls of the barn with empty wine bottles and sketches by Henry only add to the tensions surrounding addiction.
That Face is a play about children growing up too quickly and taking on roles they shouldn’t have to. The title alludes to other themes of the play, from the artificiality of some of the characters and the pretence they hold up to maintain normality, alongside the false illusion of control. That Face sends a clear message about substance abuse and the importance of seeking help, something everyone should take away from this piece.