We round up the reviews for this revival of Polly Stenham’s play, starring Niamh Cusack.

Credit: Johan Persson

WhatsOnStage: *** “Cusack plays her with overwhelming vehemence, absorbing the energy around her. But she feels like a character without context, a contemporary Miss Havisham, so huge that she flattens the steps that have brought her to this place. Under this spotlight, it is Henry’s story that becomes the focus. His overpowering longing to have achieved something in his care of his mother over five long years, means that he becomes as reluctant to let go as his mother.”

The Guardian: ***** “Hilton-Hille is a revelation as teenage son Henry. When Henry and Martha hang out in bed together, reading and drawing, there’s genuine affection between them. Kindness. The remnants of something good. But there’s so much that stings and appalls. Loaded and sexually suggestive phrases – “Henry, I forgot my towel!” – make one shudder. “

Everything Theatre: **** “The tragedy feels Shakespearean in its structure whilst absolutely current. And of course Niamh Cusack as Martha is at the centre of the maelstrom: manic, manipulative and magnificent. As ever.”

Time Out: **** “There’s the very real possibility that Polly Stenham will never top the play she wrote when she was 19, but at least she can rest easy in the knowledge that it really is a classic, a timeless roar of teenage frustration.”

Broadway World: **** “Back in 2007, the focus of the play seemed to be looking at a mother who flirts dangerously close to incest with her son, cultivating a deeply unhealthy and unnatural environment. Today, I think the story looks more like an intense observation of the disintegration of the parent-child bond, coersive control, extreme mental health issues and alcoholism leading to a toxic environment where a family is at breaking point. The programme notes about a dynamic where parent and child roles are reversed called ‘parentification’ are incredibly informative.”

OnceAWeekTheatre.com: “There’s no doubt that That Face is fraught, possibly too much so for all tastes. But, importantly, much of the drama and self-indulgence is not just because of the teenagers. Martha’s “upside down world” is too obvious at times. And the “nightmarish quality” (cleverly reflected in Eleanor Bull’s design, which includes an excellent revolving bed) referred to is far from subtle. There are lots of uncomfortable moments that Seymour handles bravely. If some of decisions might be better suited to a less intimate venue, that might bode well for the show’s future. I could see a transfer for this one – the play and production deserve it.”

Credit: Johan Persson

British Theatre.com: *** “This play is a remarkable achievement for a nineteen-year-old author. But there are real defects. In addition to the problem of balance between the characters there is simply too much of Martha ‘in extremis’, compelling as the actors make these scenes. The tone has a relentless intensity of eloquent, intrafamilial evisceration that does not ebb and flow as it should, suggesting that the play has never quite transcended its obvious models in the work of Coward, Albee and Tennessee Williams.”

London Theatre1: **** “There’s not much hope left by the end of the play – there’s some stark realism that conventionality could win out, should Mia, still at school, complete her education and embark on a career of her choosing. Not all the narrative strands come together by curtain call, which leaves questions remaining about what happens next. Overall, it’s an uncomfortable but nonetheless riveting production to watch.”

The Reviews Hub: **** “If there is an issue with the play, it is its relentlessness. Starting at a high pitch of intensity, it has nowhere else to go. There is a marvellous moment when Hugh, the father, walks in on them, Henry now wearing his mother’s nightdress, begowned Martha swigging from a wine bottle. The audience hoots with cathartic laughter. In a way, the play could end here. But it continues through an ever more feverish fifteen minutes, spelling out what could easily be imagined about the catastrophic damage inflicted on the teenagers.”

TheatreVibe: “It is of course Niamh Cusack’s outstanding performance you will remember but Kasper Hilton-Hille is touching as Henry grapples with the extremes of his mother’s mental health.”

Theatre Weekly: “Stenham’s script is undeniably a strong, and at times, utterly gripping piece of drama. For a play so grounded in realism, this production does sometimes veer in the opposite direction, taking us out of the nuance that should make it truly shocking, and we seem to be missing the class element, where money and power plays a pivotal role.”

That Face continues to play at the Orange Tree Theatre until the 7th October 2023.


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