The stage is messy. Wonky picture frames, half-finished sculptures, rolls of paper, empty plastic bottles and newspaper pages litter the floor. A rumpled, grubby looking mattress lies in the middle, and on the mattress, knees pulled up to her chin, staring vacantly into space, sits an equally rumpled girl. This is Rachel, the artist, and this is her studio. The doorbell rings, shattering her reverie; quickly she jumps up, straps a knee support onto her leg, grabs a crutch and prepares to meet her visitor.
It quickly becomes apparent that this dark, oppressive, cluttered studio is Rachel’s universe, a reflection of her tormented soul. The play is trapped inside it, just as Rachel is herself. All of the other characters are merely her satellites, orbiting around her dark gravitational pull. Jovial and bewildered Greg, sitting for his portrait; Brisk, cosmopolitan agent, Ajani; Acidic Shaun – all are clearly deeply involved in some way in Rachel’s story, which appears to be gradually, inexorably, reaching a crisis point. The tension builds as we watch them circle each other in a wary dance, and we wait fearfully for the inevitable explosion. Writer Heather Jeffery is clearly very interested in the role which social media plays in modern life, and explores the ways in which it intrudes and exposes, but that theme never dominates the story to the exclusion of the real subject matter, that of the human condition.
For such a deeply psychological play, the dialogue is refreshingly natural. True, Rachel is rather addicted to pretentious artistic psychobabble; “I like to viscerally excavate my subjects”; but the very fact that Greg pulls her up on this trait shows a laudable self-awareness on the part of the writer. Rebecca Bell, as Rachel, occasionally seems to have trouble with the longer, more ponderous speeches; however, her physicality and her brittle, snappy responses during the more intense conversations effectively convey her suffering. Tom Telford, Lindsey Chaplin and Joey Bartram are equally talented and believable in their respective roles; their characters clearly defined but never overwrought or overstated. Director Niall Phillips plays expertly with pauses and silences, drawing them out just long enough to be uncomfortable, and the actors seem to relish and exploit the awkwardness.
The sound effects, crashing electronic chords and frenetic internet beepings, are unfortunately a little trite and unoriginal and do not do justice to the rest of the production. However the lighting, and particularly the set, which unrolls and reveals itself in tandem with the story, are effective and well designed.
Face To Face is a tale of secrets, mistrust, isolation and human frailty. It makes you think and it makes you question, but it is also a surprisingly enjoyable play.
Review by Genni Trickett
Face To Face
A young female artist, recovering from a serious injury, develops a relationship with her sitter. Their shared exploration of deeper themes of artistic endeavour is shattered by the arrival of Shaun who drives a wedge of distrust between them. Is Rachel’s growing belief in a dangerous conspiracy a product of her over active imagination or a very real threat?
Writer : Heather Jeffery
Director : Niall Phillips
Designer : Ellis Higgins
Tuesday 28 April 2015 until 23rd May
Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 8pm
Friday 1st May 2015