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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That Face, Tron Theatre review

Published in The Guardian

That Face

Tron, Glasgow
3 out of 5

Someone once said the most alarming thing about Trainspotting was the thought that Begbie could be prowling the streets in real life. The same is true of Martha in That Face, a character who, like her namesake in Who's Afraid of ­ Virginia Woolf?, is recklessly charismatic, hopelessly drunk and frighteningly believable.

She is the best thing about this debut play, written by Polly Stenham when she was just 19, and a hit for London's Royal Court in 2007. Excellently played here by Kathryn Howden, she is both seductive and horrific, with an incestuous lust for her son Henry, a half-boy, half-man played with tremendous sensitivity by James Young. They share a claustrophobic bedroom in a Glasgow flat (the play is relocated north for Andy Arnold's production), with Henry believing he has the power to rescue her from drink-fuelled decline, and Martha exploiting his good will to extend her reign of narcissistic indulgence.

Their scenes together are compelling; so, too, are those when they are joined by newcomer Hollie Gordon as tearaway daughter Mia. Together they create such a vibrant sense of chaos that Phil McKee's estranged father Hugh seems like a spoilsport when he tries to restore order. Despite her destructiveness, Martha is an irresistible life force.

Partly for that reason, the scenes outside the bedroom pale in comparison, especially as they are inelegantly arranged in awkward corners of Adam Wiltshire's set. And, though Stenham has created a troubling vision of a dysfunctional family, the fate she metes out to the monstrous Martha is ultimately disappointing.

© Mark Fisher 2009


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