Epistemysics

Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Critique: That Face

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Program

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

So.  It is a new year for programs, it is.  Well, this is the first program for 2010 I have reviewed, not counting those for the Sydney Festival.  This is exciting, isn’t it?  After delivering my inaugural 2009 State of the Program Address, I wonder whether things have changed in the programmatic landscape.

They haven’t.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the room of boom, though (and no, I do not know what the ‘room of boom’ is – presumably a bomb testing facility?).  First up we have the Director’s Note:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

This is, truly, the best Director’s Note I have ever read.  I’ve never seen a Director’s Note in diary-entry form before, but I’m liking it a lot.  More of this, please.

Of course, I think I should supply a reason as to why I like it – and I think it is this.  Most Director’s Note sound like they’re coming from God and being chiseled into a stone tablet by the guy (or gal) writing the program, whereas this has a personal touch to it.  “This is the worst play to be rehearsing over Christmas” – what other Director’s Notes would start out with a line like that?  A big thumbs up to the director here.

Next we have an article entitled “An Astonishing Debut”, which is an edited version of an article that was published in The Weekend Australian.  This was…vaguely interesting, and it was good to get some information on the playwright, including a small interview with her, but I would’ve (a) preferred to have read the entire article, which I probably still have around the house somewhere anyways, and (b) to have had some original content that I’m paying for in my program, so I’m not in the situation where I’m buying both the paper the article came from and the program containing the same article.  This, also, happened with the Director’s Note, and continues to do so for either the Director’s or Writer’s Note for each of the plays that Belvoir puts on, as they place the text of it on their website in the “Behind the Scenes” section, thus devaluing that section of the program.

After that we have the following:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

An article entitled “Mother the Monster”, which goes on to list many a monstrous mother that exists in the theatrical canon.  Shall we go through the list and see how good a play critic I am?

  • Medea – Heard of her, vaguely.
  • Morgan le Fay – Nope.
  • Volumnia – No – sounds like a stereo system, though.
  • Julia Agrippina – sounds like a superglue, and that’s a no on her as well.
  • Mrs Alving – Not a sausage.
  • Mrs Morel – Say who?
  • Mrs Venable – What now?
  • Yvonne – Whaa?
  • Sophie Portnoy – Well, I had heard of the novel, but not the character.
  • A – B, C?  What kind of a character name is that?  Never heard of her.

So, your esteemed drama critic has vaguely heard of 1/10 of these lovely ladies.  One would think that would make the article interesting, and a learning experience.  Well, like most of school, I found this boring.  And now, smoothly glossing over the fact that I’ve just shown a huge lack of experience, we are moving on!

After that we had this:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

What this is is an article on how alcohol abuse affects the family structure of those in the Australian population.  Mildly interesting.  There’s probably a play in these family structures.  Oh wait, I just saw that play – funny that.  Also there are some interesting pieces of concept art for the costume design – at least this is what I assume they are (the pictures being credited to the costume designer).  They were fun to look at.  But when, I wonder, are we going to get concept art in our programs consistently?  And why is there no concept art from the set designer?

And that, my glorious and wonderful readers, is it for the content section of this program.  There are the usual biographies, of course, but they are never particularly interesting, and conform to the standard in this case.  I do, however, have to give out the Longest Column Award, the first for 2010, and the rules have changed slightly – now everyone is eligible for the prize, rather than just the actors, like last year.  Hopefully this won’t sway the prize money away from the actors too much.  We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

So – the Longest Column Award for That Face goes to…Oh my word it’s Marcus Graham!  Tell him what he’s won, Bob.

Bob: Well Marcus, you’ve won yourself a trip to Haiti!  Fly there and stay five nights in the luxurious comforts of the Four Seasons Hotel, then fly back, all at our expense.  And make sure to visit the nightclubs – you haven’t shaken your booty until you’ve been all shook up in Haiti!

Oh…dear…that’s hardly appropriate.  Thank you for that Bob…

And now to the business end – what’s the score?  Overall, the program was not a particularly promising start to 2010 for me, but it’s, well, better than nothing.

You know, sometimes I feel that if it weren’t for the plays, I’d probably never go to Belvoir…

That said, this program gets a grand total of…

5/10

Play

Martha (Susie Porter)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: If anyone from Belvoir is reading this, can they tell me if there’s like a press thing to get better pictures?  The ones on your site are…well…not so good.  I like-a the big pictures – the supersized ones…yeah…they make my reviews look purdy and all that…  My email is on the About page.)

ADAM: You’re back.

ADAM: Apparently I am.

What took you so long?

What do you mean?  I’ve been here the whole time.

You haven’t talked to me since we reviewed Hamlet – a split personality does get lonely, you know.

What?  Hamlet was like only a month ago.  Stop complaining.

I have a damn right to complain!  Do you know how boring it is just sitting in your brain doing nothing while you continue to give me the cold shoulder over and over again?

I think you mean the cold hemisphere, don’t you?

What?

‘Cause I’m shunning you in my brain and –

Oh, it was a joke.  Ha, ha.  Aren’t you funny.

Well, there’s no need to be sarcastic about it…

No need?  There’s every need!  You had me speaking in Shakespearean verse for god’s sake – you think that something like that would bond two people together, you know, keep them close and all that.  But oh no, you had to go off and start writing a play, didn’t you?  Mr. Playwright thinks he’s better than all his split personalities, thinks he can’t afford to sap any of his creative juice on a review, doesn’t he?  Thinks that all of us should just sit around waiting for a creative drop to come from his Brain of Gold, like scraps of food in a dump, he does.  Pathetic.

Actually, they’re called critiques now.

You pretentious, delusional—

Plus I’m writing one now, aren’t I?  And I haven’t even finished my play.  See?  There’s plenty of creative juice to go around.

Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald) and Martha (Susie Porter)

So you think I’m a charity case, is that it?  The Lord of the Creative Juices has deigned to let slip a few droplets from his subconscious for the peasants to fight over!

And yet you’re wasting them on attacking me.

Oh!  And now he tries to tell me how I should use them!  No, it’s not enough to just give us creative life, you have to go dictating terms, don’t you?

Can’t we just talk about the play?

The play?  You think we should be talking about a play at a time like this?  How dare you change the topic!

You see, this happens every time.  Every time you promise that you’ll stop getting drunk on the power of these creatives droplets that I give you, and every time you come out attacking me.  I’m sick of it.  I’ve had it up to here with your dramas.

Oh, I’m a drama queen now, am I?  You’re one to talk – yes, I saw how you acted around that cockroach last night, screeched like a male soprano with his balls in a vice, you did.

I did not.  And stop switching the conversation back to me – it’s you with the problem.  You’re the one who steals the creative juices while I’m sleeping.

Steals?  Steals?  How…how could you accuse me of something like that?  How could you even think that I would stoop to a level as low as that?

Because I know it was you!  Who else would do it?

So you’re going to take logic over my word?  Some…friend…you are.

Friend?  What friend would steal my juices?  You’re too cowardly to even admit it.

There’s nothing to admit!

How can you lie to me!

But I’m not lying!

You know what, I’m sick of this.  I am so over all this…shit!  Why don’t you just fuck off and find yourself another brain to be a split personality in – I’ll write all the reviews by myself from now on.

What?  What?  You’re not serious?  Adam.  You wouldn’t do that, would you?  Just leave me all alone like that?  Adam.  Adam.  Adam!  Say something.  Adam!

Okay.   Okay I admit it, I stole some of your creative juices.  But it was just because I was feeling so lonely, and you hadn’t let me had any for awhile, and I was desperate to feel like an artist again, and you know, you know, you don’t really know what it’s like to be without any juice, do you?  You just sit there in your ivory tower writing pages upon pages of stuff, but you’ve never had writer’s block, have you?  Adam!

Okay, I’m sorry for saying that.  I’m sorry for stealing your juices.  Oh god, just say something, anything!  Don’t throw me out of your brain, I’ll never survive out there.  We’re meant to be together, you and I.  The two split personality critics against the world, that’s the way it should be, right?  Right?  Right?!?!  Adam!  Oh god, I can’t breathe.  Adam…Adam!!

What?!

You’ll…you’ll forgive me, right?  You know I didn’t mean to hurt you.

Then why’d you steal it?

It’s just…just that sometimes I get desperate, you see…and you, you – no, I’m not going to make excuses anymore – I promise it won’t happen again.

You say that every time, though.

Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald) and Mia (Emily Barclay)

But this time I mean it, I swear I do.

Really?

I do.

And you promise you’ll never steal any creative juices of mine again?

Cross my heart and swear to die.

And you’ll help me write the review of the play?

Yes.

Fine.

Well this is wonderful!  Come here and give your split personality a hug.  You’re too good for me, you know.

Oh, I know alright.

A toast!

A toast?

To new beginnings, to never stealing any creative juices from you again!

Fine.

If you’d be so kind to charge my glass with some juice, we can get started…

But you said —

Just one drop – we have to have a toast, don’t we?

Alright.

Mmm, that tastes good.  Now then, what play did you see?

That Face at Belvoir Street Theatre.

And what was it about?

Well, I’ll take the blurb from one of the postcard flyers that I managed to procure from somewhere:

Henry’s dropped out of school, Mia’s been expelled, dad’s in Hong Kong with a young new wife, and mum’s an alcoholic mess.  That’s where Polly Stenham’s remarkable debut play begins.  It ends in a thrilling showdown between destruction and regeneration.

Interesting.  Just fill my glass up a bit more, if you would.  There we go…

That Face is Gen Y’s revenge on the Baby Boomers.  Stenham was 19 when she wrote it and 20 when it wowed audiences at London’s acclaimed Royal Court Theatre in 2007.  She’s created a mesmerising eruption of humour and cruelty, wisdom and insolence.  There’s a touch of the classic about this play – the age-old battle between parents and their children to own the future.  And in Martha, the mother of the family, Stenham has written a captivating theatrical monster to compete with the best of them.

There’s still a bit of juice left, isn’t there?  I haven’t had my share yet.

Would you let me finish saying the damn blurb!

Martha (Susie Porter)

Geez, no need to get so touchy.

Lee Lewis directs Susie Porter in her Company B Belvoir debut, and Marcus Graham returns to Belvoir St.  Polly Stenham’s ferocious and moving play is their task.  We’re looking forward to it.

You see, this is what worries me about this play.

What?

Apprently Lee Lewis is only directing Susie Porter, according to that blurb.  Shouldn’t she be directing the rest of the cast as well?

One would think so.  Yes, one would definitely think so.

How unusual it is, then.  Perhaps it’s some new directing style that I haven’t heard of.

Perhaps it’s direction by delegation.

Direction by selection.

Direction by protection.

What?

I thought we were saying all the -tion words we could think of.

No.

Oh.  Nevermind then.

So yes, I assume—

Direction by antidisestablishmentarianism.

What?

I was just riffing on the theme.

Well stop.

Okay…  You are such a strong boy, aren’t you.  You know how the world should work.

Damn right I do.  So I assume that perhaps the postcard got it slightly wrong.

It is just a postcard after all.

This is true.

Martha (Susie Porter) and Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald)

So, boss, the play, the play!

Right.

Where were you sitting?

Front and centre, my good man, front and centre.  I was as centred as you could be, and as, well…fronted…as you could be.  It was quite the unfortunate position to be in for some points of the play.  There are many reasons as to why this is so.

Please, do enumerate them for everyone.

Don’t you go giving me attitude now, not after what you’ve done.

Attitude?  I was merely inviting you to talk at length about how important your seat position was.

Of course you were.  Well, the main problem was that at some points in the play I couldn’t see everything that I wanted to, because there was an actor in the way of another actor, for example.

So?

I like to be able to look where I want to.

Do you realise how perverted and stalkerish that sounds?

Yes.

And you don’t want to withdraw that comment?

No.

Okay…

I like to be able to see what’s going on.  What’s wrong with that?

It’s not me you’ll end up having to convince.

You realise it’s been 1,500 words and we’ve still barely talked about the play, don’t you?  Perhaps you should let me get on with it.

I need a top up first.

Fine…

Excellent.  Go on.

So yes, the seat position wasn’t the best.  But that’s what you get when you buy your season ticket late, I suppose.  Though theoretically it’s the best seat in the house?  I’m not entirely sure where the best seat is situated in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre.

And I’m beginning to wonder where this review is situated.

Shut up.

Martha (Susie Porter) and Hugh (Marcus Graham)

Tell us about the set, then.

Well.  Well!  Once again Belvoir has kindly decided to not provide any pictures of the set whatsoever, so that all of us critics have to waste time describing it.  So here goes nothing. The set is comprised of four main areas: a hospital bed on the right, a restaurant table on the left, a bench at the front, and a large double bed in the middle, surrounded by discarded sketches, clothes, and remnants of alcoholic beverages and the glassware used to consume them from.  On the walls are large white boards that lean against them.  There’s also a rather large chandelier that hangs in the back corner that seems to serve no use whatsoever, apart from a somewhat interesting lighting effect near the middle of the play.

And by ‘somewhat interesting lighting effect’ you mean that the chandelier was just turned on?

Something like that.  I honestly had no idea what the chandelier was there for.  I assume it had some significant meaning.  I’m yet to work out what it was.

And it was lowered in the middle of the play, wasn’t it?  Until it was hovering mere feet off the ground.

Yes.  And that confuses me more.  One assumes that it probably had something to do with the descent of the mother character – Martha – into pure alcoholism, though I can’t be sure.  I wasn’t focused on the chandelier.

No, you were focused on all the actors in various states of undress, weren’t you?

Like Izzy, played by Krew Boylan, who traipsed about the stage wrapped in a bedsheet for part of the play, or Martha, who spent most of it in various bedclothes—

Or Henry, played by Kenji Fitzgerald, who spent quite awhile without a shirt.

I know – obviously the costume departments of the theatre sector have been affected by the recession.

Not that showing a bit of flesh is a bad thing.

Oh, of course not.  In fact, it’s to be encouraged.  There’s not enough flesh on Sydney stages at the moment.

Apart from The Residents at the Sydney Theatre Company.

Yes, they seem to have gotten the balance right.  Nudity in every play.

But I sense you have a reason for this want of nudity, apart from your hormones.

Indeed I do.  You see, the more flesh on stage, the more, well, sexually inclined the audience becomes, and the more sexually inclined an audience gets, the more chance there is for some afternoon delight after a matinee, for example, and the more afternoon delight after a matinee, the more chance for children to be conceived, and the more children conceived, the more chance that the parents of these children, who are theatregoers, will take their children to the theatre, and the more children that go to the theatre, the more chance of those children becoming theatregoers for life, and the more children becoming theatregoers for life, the more theatregoers there are, and the more theatregoers there are that see flesh on stage, the more—

I think we get the point.

It’s just basic demographics, it is.  And economy.

You’re a man of the future, you are.

Indeed I am.

I need another top up.

There you go.  So as we’re still not talking about the play all that much, perhaps we should watch a nice Youtube clip:

That was Lee Lewis, the director of That Face, talking with Ralph Myers, with beard.

With beard?

Mr. Myers doesn’t have a beard in his profile shot in the programs:

Ralph Myers' Profile Shot

So?

I think this is a sign that he’s become lazy.  That’s the only reason that I have a beard at times – pure laziness.  He finally gets the coveted position as artistic director of Belvoir, and Neil Armfield, the former director, hasn’t even turned his back on the company for more than a minute and already Mr. Myers has grown a beard and is slothing it up.  Methinks he will choose the 2011 season by taping all the plays to a wall and throwing darts at them while blindfolded.

And here I was thinking that I was supposed to be the drunk one.

Drunkenness is a relative thing.

But back to the set.

Yes.  Apart from having no idea what the chandelier was for, I was also puzzled by the hospital bed, which was on stage while the audience were taking their seats, but was moved offstage sometime during the first or second scene, then moved back on again in the third when it was finally required – it seemed strange to me that it wasn’t kept offstage until it was needed.  This isn’t really a criticism of the play though, for whether it was on or offstage at the beginning of the play did not affect the experience at all – it’s more just a quaint little curiosity of mine.

And so you thought you’d waste everybody’s time with it?

Isn’t most of this review a waste of everybody’s time?

It is?  I was under the impression that we were involved in what is commonly known as ‘witty banter’.

Dream on.  I should say now that there is a general spoiler warning for the rest of this review.

How polite of you.

The climactic scene in the play involves Henry—

That’s the guy who had his shirt off, right?

Yes, it involves him, well, urinating in his dress while standing on the double bed.  There are two things of note here.  First, Henry’s bladder was visible to the audience—

His bladder was visible?  Good grief.

Not that bladder, the one he had strapped to his back – one could see it underneath the dress that he was wearing – surely the dress could have been made from a material that wasn’t so see-through?  Secondly, it is interesting to note, at least I think anyways, that this is the second play in a row where Marcus Graham, who plays the father, Hugh, has been involved with some form of bodily fluid escaping from the body.  In God of Carnage, which he was playing in last year, his wife had a spectacular projectile vomit all over the stage, and now his son in That Face is wetting himself.  Methinks I see a trend, I do.

Right…

But it’s interesting nonetheless, this ‘in-yer-face’ theatre (this is what it was referred to as in the program notes, I believe).

It wasn’t in the program notes.

It wasn’t?

I can’t find it.

Oh well.  I’m sure I read it somewhere.  Not that the whole play was particularly ‘in-yer-face’, though this scene with the urine definitely was.  Or at least it definitely had ambitions to be – it was supposed to be, I assume, something shocking.  But in all honesty, I wasn’t that moved at all.

Martha (Susie Porter) and Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald) in rehearsal

The old woman sitting next to you reached into her handbag for a tissue when it happened, though.

That she did.  I wonder why.  It’s just strange to me that the character of Henry actually did go through with it.  To be honest I can’t even remember what his reasons were – perhaps I missed a crucial line of dialogue or something.

Keeping up the critical standards, I see.

Indeed.  It just seemed so ineffective, though.  I mean, this is something that was supposed to shock me.  This makes me wonder why it was that I wasn’t shocked.  Because from what I can see, it was nothing to do with the play or its direction.  Perhaps I am part of a generation that isn’t as shocked by such things – I could hear most of the audience’s intake of breath when the first wet spot started to appear.

Maybe you weren’t as shocked because you saw his hand reach around to do what it had to do with the bladder that he was wearing?

Yes, perhaps that was it.  Perhaps the forewarning reduced the impact.

Because the revelation of what was inside the blanket came as quite the surprise, didn’t it?

Yes, when Henry is dragged from the home where he is taking care of his alcoholic mother by his sister, and his sister rips up the note that he leaves his mother (so that she will know where he’s gone), his mother gets angry and rips up all his clothes and stuffs it in the doona cover (although the audience doesn’t see this).  When Henry comes home and finds that his clothes have been ripped up, you’re right, that was quite the surprise.  Much more surprising than the wetting of the pants.

Wetting of the dress, you mean.

Of the dress.  I still don’t quite understand why he did that.

Well his mother was an alcoholic…

Yes…

Maybe he just wanted to…

What?

Wait for it…

What!

Wait for it…

Just spit it out for god’s sake.

Maybe he just wanted to get pissed as well.

Oh for fuck’s sake.

What?  That was funny.

Sure it was.  Is this what you’re going to do with all that creative juice that I’m giving you?  Make horrible jokes like that?

It’s no worse than any of the jokes you’ve got in your play.

Well I haven’t written it all yet, have I?  So you can’t be certain.

Whatever.

Yes, whatever.

But back to the set once more.

Again?

It was white.

Yes.

Very white.

Whiter than paper.

Whiter than liquid paper.

Whiter than snow.

Direction by suggestion.

What?

Oh, sorry, I’m on the wrong page.

Sigh.

You can’t say sigh, you have to put it in brackets.

(Sigh.)

There we go.

But yes, the set was rather white.  It was an interesting aesthetic.  I don’t know why it was white, though.  Perhaps to show the metaphorical ‘dirt’ that the characters had on stage better.

Mia (Emily Barclay) in rehearsal

That sounds as good a reason as any.

Indeed.

So shall we talk a bit about the characters?

Sure.

First I think we should discuss the bravura performance of Laura Hopkinson, who had a non-speaking role for the first scene…

Well, it was a muffled-moan role, actually.

And an unconscious scene in the third.

She did cry, though.

Yes she did.

A bravura performance, though.  Definitely.  You see, what interests me here is that I’ve read in many a place that in playwrighting there is very little room for minor characters that are expected to be played by one actor, who shall play no other.

How eloquently you expressed that.

Yes…  I was under the impression that most actors did not like to only have a few minutes on stage in the whole performance.  One wonders why it happened this time.  Not that this is a criticism, though.  Just—

Just your quaint little curiosity again, right?

Something like that.

But the scene where she cried, that was interesting, wasn’t it?

Yes – because the brother, Henry, and the sister, Mia, who had drugged her during a sorority initiation with an excess of Valium that she had stolen from her mother, both went to visit her in hospital.  And as the scene ended and the hospital bed was mysteriously pulled off stage by the power cord, Alice, the patient, began to cry uncontrollably, and Henry, who was moving back to his mother’s house at the centre of the stage, had a smile on his face.

Because he had just become transfixed by the beauty of Izzy, Mia’s friend, right?

I suppose so.  But it was a weird juxtaposition, to see Henry smiling while Alice cried her heart out.  And it was also just weird to hear Alice crying – it didn’t seem to add much to the play at all – it happened when there were no other characters around to hear it, so it couldn’t have affected the story in any way.  It was almost like a non-diegetic plot point.

Non-diegetic?

Non-diegetic sound is sound that the character’s can’t hear – background music, for example.

What’s it got to do with the plot?

Oh, nevermind.

No, tell me.

It was a bad term to use anyway.  So yes, Laura Hopkinson, excellent moaning and crying.  Great performance.

And what about Emily Barclay, who was in Gethsemane last year at Belvoir?

Well that was interesting—

Can you stop saying ‘interesting’?

What?

Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald) and Martha (Susie Porter) in rehearsal

It’s like the only adjective you know.

Well that was fascinating, happy?  It was fascinating to me, because she seemed to be playing much the same character that she did in Gethsemane.  In Gethsemane, she was a young woman, in school, who despised her mother, and did something horrible that had great repercussions (though it wasn’t something horrible to another person, such as it was with Alice in That Face).  So yes, she despised her mother in that, and it felt like she was playing much the same character in That Face as well.  I have no idea if that’s a bad thing or not—

Just another quaint curiosity.

Exactly.  Plus she didn’t seem to know what to do for half of the first scene, but she got more into the character after that.  Although there was one line in the final scene – ‘too late’ – that intrigued me, because she uttered it and yet none of the other characters reacted.

You think she flubbed a line?

No, no, just that it was strange that none of the other characters reacted.

Or perhaps you just missed the reaction.

There’s always that.

And what about Hugh, the father, played by Marcus Graham?

Fine.  He came into the play rather late in the piece, but he held his own.

And Henry, played by Kenji Jackson, the guy who had his shirt off for parts of the play?

Why do you keep mentioning that?

I don’t know.

Are you gay?

What?  Me?  No!

Are you sure?

If I was gay, would I be here with you now doing a review?  No – I’d be out on the streets for Mardi Gras.

You have a point there.

Of course I do.

I remember last year I happened to have to walk part of Oxford Street the day after Mardi Gras, in the late morning.

And?

It was a strange experience.  It was like walking in an area filled with lots of very fashionably dressed and hungover zombies.

‘Cause of that big night before?

I assume so.

So yes, tell me about the guy who had his shirt off.

Well, he was very…

Don’t do it…

Prepossessing?

See?  Your vocabulary is improving already.

He kept my interest for most of the time he was talking, which must be a good thing, yes?

I suppose so.

The dynamic between him and Martha, his mother, was very compelling.  It reminded me of the main character in Absolutely Fabulous and her daughter – I can’t remember their names.  Indeed, the mother in That Face was like the mother in Absolutely Fabulous (who I find that Kevin Jackson on his blog has also found similarities with – damn it, and here I was thinking I had an ‘insight exclusive’), except without as many redeeming qualities, and a much more sinister revenge-cortex in her brain.  But they were both as manipulating as each other.  And strangely enough, both the daughter (I think her name is Sapphy) in Ab Fab, and the son, Henry, in That Face, gave in to the manipulations.  I’m reminded of a scene at the start of the play where Henry has had enough and Martha begins to hyperventilate to get him to forgive her, and he does, even though he knows that she is faking it.  It’s curious that the psychology of his character seems to respond to the effort, the desperation, for forgiveness, even though he is fully aware of the manipulation.

Martha (Susie Porter), Hugh (Marcus Graham), and Izzy (Krew Boylan) in rehearsal

And what about the mother, Martha, played by Susie Porter, who I believe is actually Rebecca Gibney in disguise.

She was like watching a train crash, she was.  That’s all I really have to say, on that.

She was that bad?

Oh, no – I meant, her character was like that.  Not the actor.  No, Susie Porter was excellent.

And what about Izzy, played by Krew Boylan?

I heard her mother was a hairdresser until her career was cut short.  (There’s two jokes in there, by the way.)  (And I actually like Krew as a name, too.  Huh.)

And you complain about my jokes.

Well, apart from a very transforming change of hairstyle between the first and third scenes, she was quite good as well.  You know what I was interested by, though?

I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you.

Do you know what I was diverted by on the train ride home?

Much better.  No, what?

That none of the reviews I had read of this play compared it to Ruben Guthrie, which was on at Belvoir last year.  Both are about alcoholics, though their treatment of them is radically different – but it seems curious that no other reviews mentioned this.  It’s interesting to juxtapose the two, because Ruben Guthrie, on the one hand, was a play that lead ultimately to redemption (well, almost – it was definitely heading in that direction, though the ending was ambiguous), while That Face

Just steamrolled straight past redemption and catapulted itself to the seventh level of hell?

That about sums it up.  And it’s fascinating to compare the two, because both plays had ‘benders’ after the promise of redemption.  In That Face, Henry thinks he has convinced his mother to come to a rehab clinic with him, but they end up drinking too much before they make it out the door, and in Ruben Guthrie, from memory, the main character there had finally been clean for quite some time and looked sure to continue that way until events led to him falling off the deep end.  And it is curious to note that, in the interview with Lee Lewis, the director, in that Youtube clip earlier, she remarked upon how Susie Porter had commented that her character, Martha, was on stage for virtually the entire play, and the same happens with Ruben in Ruben Guthrie – I remember reading an interview, I think, with Toby Schmitz (the actor who played Ruben), who commented that his character was on stage for most of the play.  Or perhaps it was a review.  I can’t remember – it was far too long ago.

I don’t know why you expected to remember that considering you can’t even remember plot points from the play this afternoon.

Shut up.  I’m not sure if it’s significant that the two alcoholics were on stage for the majority of their respective plays, but I may as well mention it.  It’s not going to come in use at any other point in my life now, is it?

You never know.

Yes, I do.  It won’t.

So what else would you like to mention?

Well, I’d definitely like to mention that I thought that the ending to the play was great.

You didn’t understand what Mia was saying, though, right?

Well, I heard her words, but I didn’t know why she was asking her brother if he ‘didn’t choose’.  I mean, I have some idea, but that part was a bit confusing to me.  I did like the ending though, the fact that it was bleak.  Bleak is good.

It is?

Well, I always have a desire to see plays with bleak endings.  Perhaps it’s the effect that Hollywood has had on me, namely that all the Hollywood movies have happy endings, and I’m constantly wishing that more movies would have not-so-happy endings.  I think much the same effect applies to theatre.  There aren’t enough bleak endings.  I’m always wanting more.  Not that I’d want every ending to be bleak – but everyone likes a good tragedy, right?  There are far too many happy endings in theatre nowadays.  Take Spring Awakening, for example.

The musical on currently at the Sydney Theatre Company?

Yes.

The one that you’ve been meaning to review?

Yes, the very one.  And I probably won’t review it now, I’ve lost the enthusiasm to do it.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the show – 7.5/10 or 8/10 I would’ve given it.  But one of the things I didn’t like about it was the ending – it was rather depressing, but there was a final song that had all the characters back on stage (even the dead ones) and was all uplifting and cheery and ‘we’ll soldier on’ and all that.  Pish-tosh to all that, I say.  Give me the depressing ending!  Break free from the Broadway mould!  The same happens with just about every musical.  Even Miss Saigon had a happy song at the end, from memory.

Hugh (Marcus Graham) and Martha (Susie Porter) in rehearsal

So…

So what?

It’s been 5,000 words – I think it’s time to end this review soon.  Anything else you want to talk about?

Well, I was rather impressed by the play, even though I wasn’t particularly engaged with it for large chunks.  It was a curious reaction – my bottom became very sore for quite a lot of the play—

And you were calling me gay!

(Sigh.) You had to go and bring down the tone of the review, didn’t you.  You and your stereotypical jokes.

What?

And I thought you were going to change.  What I was trying to say was that my bottom was sore for a large majority of the play, even though I left the theatre feeling like I’d watched something quite good.  A sore bottom is usually the sign of a boring play, after all – you don’t notice the uncomfortable-ness if you’re completely absorbed in what you’re watching.  It’s a curious reaction.

I’ll say.

Shut up!  I think it may be due to Polly Stenham, the playwright, who I think perhaps had too much dialogue in some parts – there were quite a few bits that did seem to drag for awhile.  The scene in the hospital, for instance, where Henry kept urging his sister to leave – he kept asking over and over and over and over and…well, you get the idea.  And the scene in the restaurant between Hugh, the father, and his daughter Mia, where she kept changing the topic of conversation away from the state of her mother, and Hugh kept trying to bring it back on topic – this seemed to go on for too long as well.  It was interesting, because there were many sections in the play that were somewhat taut and had some tension in them, and yet then we had these scenes that went for too long and released the tension.  I think in the end, though, it was the various revelations throughout the play that kept my interest, rather than any particular sizzling dialogue (though there was some of that too).  Something like that.  I’m pretty much guessing at this point.

And with that resounding display of your critical faculties, shall we bring this review to a close?

Let’s.

So what are you going to give it?

8/10.  A fine play and a most promising debut.  I’m looking forward to Tusk Tusk, Polly Stenham’s second play, on at the Sydney Theatre Company later this year – it will be the first time that I’ll have seen a playwright’s complete oeuvre!

8/10.  That Face by Polly Stenham at Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs until 14 March.  With Emily Barclay, Krew Boylan, Kenji Fitzgerald, Marcus Graham, Laura Hopkinson, and Susie Porter.  Directed by Lee Lewis.  Set by Brian Thomson.  Costume by Alice Babidge.  Lighting by Verity Hampson.  Sound by Stefan Gregory.  Voice Coach Danielle Roffe.  Fights by Scott Witt.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, I do believe that’s the first review I’ve ever posted on the same day I actually saw the play.  Huh.  I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not.)

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Written by epistemysics

February 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Theatre Reviews

One Response

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  1. […] non-white people in white roles) should be undertaken.  This, of course, was something to which That Face, a play on at Belvoir earlier in the year that Lee Lewis directed (and which contained an all-white […]


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