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Review of That Face by Polly Stenham performed by The Masque Theatre at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

As millions were sitting down to watch the misery of EastEnders and its big reveal of Lucy's killer, A Small Mind ventured out to the theatre for some light relief. Yeah right!

That Face by Polly Stenham is generally as far from light relief as you could imagine, like the aforementioned soap being unshackled by its pre-watershed needs, this was gritty family drama in the extreme. Long before the play begins those who had made their way to their seats early get the chance to see curtain up and a girl sitting bound and masked in a chair. Moments of 50 Shades fears aside, its clear that we are seeing one of the unluckiest actresses you could imagine. Destined to be in two scenes with no lines, the first of which involves her being mauled about no end, its a thankless role, which todays actress of pain Julie Hicks plays very well. Suffering for her art indeed.

Doing the mauling are boarding school "buddies" Mia (Amber Mae) and mad as a box of frogs Izzy (Clare Balbi). Mia is part of the family of the play, and her initial antics with Izzy and their victim Alice are what weaves us into the play and heralds latterly the return of father Hugh (Martin Williams). The torture of Alice is made worse from her use of drugs acquired from her pill popping and alcoholic mother Martha (Patricia Coleman). Add into the mix Mia's brother and school drop-out Henry (Luke Nunn) and you have everything you need for an explosive family saga.

Coleman and Nunn are the standout performances of the show, partly due to their having the stronger defined roles of Polly Stenham's piece. The relationship is really quite a bizarre one, bordering at times on the incestuous but constantly a creepy one as Martha's "Mummy" decline looks like taking out her son in the fallout. There is more than a hint of Blanche DuBois in Martha's decline and the eventual resolution edges towards a very familiar, but modern edged path. Coleman is superb in the role, cavorting and writhing constantly across the centre-piece bed. Her breakdown is totally believable.

The character of Henry was originally played by Matt Smith and watching the role you could truly see him in it, this is as much a credit to Nunn as the written piece itself, as he has more than a suggestion of Smith in his performance. Those scenes of him jumping around on the bed are very much the work of Smith's nervous energy in his performance and Nunn does the same. From an initial gentle portrayal at the start of the play, through his sexual awakening and disgust at his mothers reaction to it and drunken decline, Nunn goes through all the emotions and is one to keep an eye on for the future.

Quality support comes from Mae, Balbi and Williams in their admittedly lesser roles. Mae effectively a distraught witness to the events despite causing half of it, while Balbi confident as the slightly dizzy Izzy and sexual predator stalking her prey. Williams adds the controlled elder statesman's act towards the end, all posturing, posing and controlling as he crashes the chaotic party.

First time Masque director Gary Amos has created a solid, near professional production with his talented six players and comes highly recommended. Don't sit at home watching that soap opera, go see some meaty drama live in front of your eyes.


Performance reviewed: Thursday 19th February, 2015 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton. 

That Face is performed by the Masque Theatre and runs until Saturday 21st February, 2015 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Details can be found at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/

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