Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not bad for a first try (That Face - Royal Court Upstairs)

There must be a lot of people in the play writing community who hate Polly Stenham right now. Not only has she had her first play staged by the Royal Court at the age of only 20, but its has had some critics drooling and you now can't get tickets for love nor money.

All well deserved in my book. Analysing it on the tube on the way home I realised you pick all sorts of holes in the plotting and characterisation, but in the theatre this production holds you in such an emotional grip that you don't have time to analyse.

Much has been made about That Face's upper middle class setting, a world of boarding schools and flats in the docklands. A stark contrast to the world of kitchen sinks that is Courts traditional stock in trade. But upper or lower class, fucked up families are still fucked up, even if in the case of Mia and Henry their mother's drugs of choice are expensive red wine and valium rather than smack.

Whilst Mia has escaped to boarding school Henry has dropped out to try and nurse his abandoned Mother back to something approaching health. So when Mia arrives home having been suspending for torturing one of the younger girls, with her Izzy her seductive partner in crime in tow an emotional time bomb explodes.

Although at times raw and heartbreaking Stenham's script is shot through with dark humour, and she has a beautiful ear for dialogue. She is helped enormously by strong performances by the cast, in particular Matt Smith (last seen in the woeful Party Animals) as Henry, who always manage to stay just on the right side of hysteria.

Hopefully this will tour or transfer as it deserves to be seen by many more people than the handful who are able to squeeze into the Jerwood Upstairs.

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