Friday, October 09, 2009

"That Face" - October 2009

It's a bit of a coup for the Tron Theatre Company to be putting on the first UK production of Polly Stenham's play since its critically acclaimed London runs. Based around a dysfunctional family - alcoholic mother, absent father, one kid opting out of family life while the other tries to keep Mum together - there's plenty of interest. But there are additional elements that for me just distracted from the impact of the central situation.

Daughter Mia has been sent home from boarding school which makes for a perfectly acceptable dramatic device to bring about the events of the play, but while the cause of her suspension and her relationship with friend Izzy make for some nice moments on stage, it's window dressing that adds little to the characters or plot. Similarly the inappropriate relationship between drunken mum Martha and son Henry feels too 'soapy' and allows the audience to dismiss the whole family set up as an aberration when what should be hitting home is how many young people have to deal with the reality of alcoholic parents on a daily basis.

Director Andy Arnold has shifted the play's setting from London to Glasgow and in some ways the changes are insignificant but in other regards they made it harder to believe in some of the characters. I'd have no difficulty in accepting Henry as a foppish English public school educated mummy's boy, but my Scottish psyche won't let me believe that a privately educated Glasgow lad would be quite so tied to the apron strings.

As Martha, Kathryn Howden's performance is perhaps a little too comfortable in the comic moments and it's at the expense of a harsher emotional edge that, when occasionally revealed, hints at how much darker the play could have been. James Young's Henry captures the character's desperate need to know he made a difference and that the five years of his life he sacrificed haven't been for nothing while Hollie Gordon gives an assured performance as Mia. But for all the fine individual performances there's rarely any sense of chemistry between the characters and even in the moments of heightened emotion and physical violence there's never any real feeling of threat or intensity.

On reading this over I feel like I've somewhat unfairly picked the production to pieces as despite these observations I really did enjoy the evening. And trying to be more positive, I think the reason it frustrated me is that there is a great play in there - it's just been smothered by the more sensationalist elements.

We received our tickets for the show through our membership of the Tron's Patrons scheme which we thoroughly recommend for anyone who is a regular attendee at the Tron.

That Face runs at the Tron until 24th October
Image by Richard Campbell Photography used with permission.

2 Heckles

A view from the coast said...

While we have concurred with most of the reviews you have published on the plays we have also seen, on this occasion it seems like we were at a different play.

We thought this was one of the best plays we have seen for a long while ...and we are prone to walking out at the interval ( or even once after 10 minutes) if we don't like something.

The two central characters were just amazing, we thought the chemistry was explosive and if the play had been any more intense, a number of weeping audience members around us would have slit their wrists!

Statler said...

It's always good to hear different views on a show, and while most of the reviews seem to have been a bit mixed, Bluedog agrees with you. I wonder if the chemistry and power of the performances have improved over the course of the run?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on future shows, but don't tease us like that - what show drove you to leave after just 10 minutes?