(Miriam Gillinson’s article appeared in the Guardian 9/15. Photo: Sensitivity and restraint … Kasper Hilton-Hille and Ruby Stokes in That Face. Photograph: Johan Persson.)
Orange Tree theatre, London
Revelatory performances fill this devastating production of Polly Stenham’s play about a family ripped apart by addiction and loneliness
Polly Stenham’s devastating play is about an affluent family ripped apart by addiction, loneliness and love directed in all the wrong places. This is the first major revival since That Face premiered to huge acclaim in 2007 and it’s an almost sickeningly intense experience, lit up by some stunning performances and Josh Seymour’s finely calibrated direction, which manages to be both stylised and punchy but intimate and truthful too.
In the original production, Lindsay Duncan played mum, Martha, with a hazy glamour – but there’s not a whiff of that here. Niamh Cusack’s Martha is an unequivocal mess. She’s wired, restless, always on the move as she scurries about the stage in a slinky nightgown. Her eyes dart about nervously and her hands reach out automatically for wine, pills, cigarettes and – above all – her son. Cusack’s Martha never asks for our sympathy and, because of that, she gets it. If only for a moment.
‘The remnants of something good’ … from left: Niamh Cusack, Kasper Hilton-Hille, Ruby Stokes and Dominic Mafham in That Face. Photograph: Johan Persson
Martha’s dazed and damaged children are played with sensitivity and restraint by two actors, Ruby Stokes and Kasper Hilton-Hille, on their stage debuts. Stokes keeps her voice flat and her tone resolutely unimpressed, as rebellious and neglected teenage daughter Mia. She buries her emotions down deep but they occasionally give her away as the young girl she so obviously still is – no more so than when she longs for her dad to fly back home from Hong Kong, where he’s shacked up with family “number two”, and save the day.