That Face is a collision of influences. Salinger. Albee. Greek myth. Tennessee Williams. As playwright Polly Stenham said: It’s, like, just practically ripped off, you know? But has Stenham borrowed and made it all her own?  Found a synergy in the modern day setting of middle-class family dysfunction? Or is That Face an awkward pilfering of other texts?

The play is uncomfortable. The opening is the torture of thirteen year-old Alice (Laura Hopkinson) by future school prefect, Izzy (Krew Boylan), and her giddy accomplice, Mia (Emily Barclay). But it’s also awkward. The hyper-real that creates high tension also falls to the fate of caricature. Boylan’s school-girl menace pitted against Barclay’s grounded, mischievous naivety doesn’t hold up when Alice becomes unconscious. Izzy flies into a predictable melodramatic fit while Mia dismisses the worry of an overdose with the concealed glee of a child used to unpredictable outcomes. End scene.

At the centre of the stage, spread across her bed, is Martha (Susie Porter). Alongside her is Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald). Martha – if her name didn’t give it away – is an archetype of previous hysterical women of the stage. Referred to by Stenham as “mother the monster”, Martha starts out playful, but soon sucks everyone in – Henry first.

An incestual affair is unbelievable; a romantic mix of control and confidence, insecurities that attract – an awkward thing that’s supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. But Porter and Fitzgerald could do little to conceal that the mother-son relationship is a point of tension, not emotion. Fitzgerald is lost in Porter’s mood swings. Nothing in Henry’s words pushes back against what is soon a drink-fueled barrage from Martha. And after she is left alone and speaks with the date and time voice on the telephone, the play slides from one predictable choice to the next.

This is briefly arrested when the missing father, Hugh (Marcus Graham), returns to his broken family. Hugh is a stable force, or at least someone who can change Martha’s behaviour. Mia is incapable and Henry impotent. It all rises to a crescendo until, finally, I wondered how far familial dysfunction would be exploited. It never went to far, but the tension of the play was found ahead of time, in its conclusion, and not from moment to moment. The final moments hyper-real and overwrought.

Company B Belvoir presents

THAT FACE by Polly Stenham

Directed by Lee Lewis

With: Emily Barclay, Krew Boylan, Kenji Fitzgerald, Marcus Graham, Laura Hopkinson & Susie Porter

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