That Face, Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Friday 09 July 2010
The stained and scratched old family photo on the poster for Polly Stenham's That Face suggests a different story to the one which unfolds so compellingly on the stage of the Crucible Studio. Dad looks proud, even smug, while Mum (Martha) seems content enough. Daughter Mia conveys a bubbly personality and only son Henry looks serious. There's no sign of the word "dysfunctional" stamped across the image. But it's there, all right, etched into the snapshot from behind whose golden frame emerges a quite different story, packed with complexity, richness and quirkiness. By the time we encounter this family, money-man Dad has abandoned his sozzled wife and his kids for a new start in Hong Kong. Henry has given up school to become his drug-dependent mother's carer while Mia is threatened with expulsion for some coolly savage behaviour in the dormitory.
Stenham writes with energetic zest, upping the ante in the second half where relationships deepen and disintegrate and the characters' overheated emotions are screwed up several ratchets. In this splendidly taut production, director Richard Wilson enjoys the luxury of a revolving set, at the centre of which designer James Cotterill's crumpled bed becomes both battleground and meeting place.
Frances Barber gives a beautifully paced performance as Martha, gradually revealing her monstrous, incestuous tendencies. As she disintegrates, Leila Mimmack, a mixed-up Mia, becomes visibly aware of the devastating repercussions of each of their actions. At the centre of it all is Henry who, in James Norton's striking portrayal, is like a young caged animal. Alistair Petrie is the father, for whom order and outward appearances are his preferred emotional currencies and, as a cocky teenage bully, Amy Dawson frightened me as much as she terrorised Gemma Lise Thornton's hapless, silent victim.
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