LIMITED RUN - MUST END 5 JULY
THAT FACE OPENS – THE CRITICS HAVE RAVED! - Times, Guardian, Evening Standard, Daily Express,
Time Out, Metro, London Lite
‘INTO THE WEST END, RAW POWER INTACT’
‘A blazing, no-holds barred production… Fresh, passionate and blackly comic – exhilarating’
‘Lindsay Duncan’s superb performance’ ‘Matt Smith is outstanding’
Daily Telegraph, Charles Spencer
‘POLLY STENHAM IS A MODERN SUCCESSOR TO TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
OR EDWARD ALBEE’
‘Intensely moving, skilfully crafted piece’
‘Matt Smith delivers an extraordinary performance’
Daily Express, Simon Edge
‘Matt Smith’s astonishing coup de theatre’
‘Jeremy Herrin’s powerful, expressionistic production’
Evening Standard, Nicholas de Jongh
‘EMOTIONAL POWER IN THE MOTHER OF ALL DEBUTS’
‘Highly accomplished performances from Hannah Murray and Julian Wadham’
Guardian, Michael Billington
‘Matt Smith gives a performance to match the excellent Lindsay Duncan’ - The Times, Benedict Nightingale
‘Polly Stenham’s writing is remarkable for it’s depth of feeling combined with a tart sense of humour’ - Time Out
‘Lindsay Duncan is mesmerising’
‘Jeremy Herrin’s unerringly slick production’
‘An astonishing debut. A highly accomplished, deeply unsettling and cruelly comic play’
‘Magnificent. Very Funny’ - Saturday Review, Radio 4
INTO THE WEST END, RAW POWER INTACT
Charles Spencer, Monday 12 January 2008
Polly Stenham wrote That Face when she was 19, saw it receive a shatteringly powerful production at the Royal Court when she was 20 and now, at 21, is the youngest dramatist to have a play performed in the West End for more than 40 years.
These must be sweet, heady and disorienting days for Ms Stenham. I hope those with the responsibility of handling her career are keeping her feet on the ground.
When That Face opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in April 2007, I described it as one of the most astonishing dramatic debuts I had seen in more than 30 years of reviewing.
Watching this West End transfer, the play seems every bit as fresh, passionate and blackly comic the second time around. She has a prodigious talent and it needs to be cherished and nurtured.
Much of the comment on the play last year focused on the fact that it fulfilled the avowed intent of the Royal Court's artistic director Dominic Cooke to put on more plays that reflected the lives of his predominantly middle-class audience.
Bad things don't only happen to the underclass living on state benefits in hellish council blocks. Posh people have their moments of extremity, pain and dysfunction too.
Although influenced by such plays as Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Noel Coward's The Vortex, Stenham makes this story of suffocating mother-love and addiction entirely her own.
The dialogue of her privileged, privately educated teenagers is bang on the money, her portrayal of a cruel dormitory initiation ceremony at a girls' boarding school horribly persuasive, while her account of a wealthy family in terminal meltdown has a terrifying authenticity.
I have met desperate middle-class people almost exactly like those Stenham portrays during my own spell in the Priory and at subsequent meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The young dramatist has been blessed with a blazing, no-holds barred production by Jeremy Herrin, with a set dominated by a rumpled double bed in which the drink and drug-addled Martha plays chilling Oedipal games with the teenage son who has dropped out of school to become her traumatised, emotionally dependent carer.
Lindsay Duncan, staggering around the stage in her night-dress with a bottle in her hand and a fag in her mouth, brings a raddled glamour and a predatory sexuality to Martha, with her pale skin and knack for the devastating slurred put-down.
The intimacy of her scenes with her troubled son Henry are disturbingly incestuous and the jealous moment when she gives the boy she calls her "Russian soldier" a love-bite to match the one he has recently received from a girl of his own age creates a disturbing thrill.
But there is humour in this superb performance too, most noticeably in the hilarious scene when Martha tries to chat up the speaking clock.
Matt Smith is outstanding as the 18-year-old Henry, who is so pitiably desperate to save his mother from herself - his final scene of emotional collapse is shattering in its intensity.
There is strong support, too, from Julian Wadham as the businessman father whose culpable absence has allowed the family's breakdown to fester; from Hannah Murray as the daughter on the verge of expulsion from her posh school, and Catherine Steadman as her cruel friend.
All of which might sound excessively grim. The startling paradox of That Face, however, is that there is so much vigour in the writing, so much passion in the playing, that one leaves the theatre feeling strangely exhilarated.