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That Face review at Royal Court Upstairs London

The teenage children of a neurotic, alcoholic mother and an absent father have only vague and fleeting glimpses of the degree to which they themselves have been emotionally and psychologically damaged. But Polly Stenham’s first play, developed through the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme, presents the picture in moving and insightful ways.

While the broad overview may be predictable and familiar – that is, it is no surprise that the kids are messed up – it is in the subtleties that Stenham has much to tell us, such as the almost overpowering burden of denial (of different sorts) that the youngsters must labour under, the near-incestuous closeness such a secret life generates and the fact that the one who has chosen to be mother’s carer has so much invested in the mission that the prospect of failure is unbearable.

All the characters are recognisable and believable, from the mother whose dependence on her son constantly threatens to cross a forbidden line, to the self-centred friend of the daughter who has no idea of the emotional quagmire she dances so blithely around the edges of.

Jeremy Herrin directs with an understated smoothness that accentuates the play’s subtle power and a cast led by Lindsay Duncan as the mother, and Matt Smith and Felicity Jones as her wounded son and daughter, raise the play above any hint of mere case study to rounded human drama.

Production Information

Royal Court Upstairs, London, April 20-May 19

Polly Stenham
Jeremy Herrin
Royal Court
Lindsay Duncan, Matt Smith, Felicity Jones, Julian Wadham, Catherine Steadman, Abigail Hood
Running time
1hr 45mins

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