That Face

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

19/03/2010 - 10/04/2010

Production Details


A tour-de-force from the caustic new voice of Generation Y; Silo Theatre has finally found a play which loudly exclaims the C word: CLASS. Watch a mesmerising eruption of cruelty and humour as a middle class family is eviscerated in THAT FACE, Silo Theatre’s first production for 2010, premiering at the Herald Theatre, THE EDGE® from March 19th

Henry has dropped out of school to look after Mummy Dearest.
Mia is about to be booted out all of her own accord.
Mummy is a beautifully spoken monster, drunkenly indulging her own decline.
And Daddy? In absentia, but rushing home from Hong Kong to fix things as only his money can.
And now it is time for this fractured family to face a reality they have avoided for far too long.

Polly Stenham was only 19 when her play wowed audiences at London’s prestigious Royal Court Theatre, and just 20 when it transferred to the West End – the youngest playwright ever to do so. Told with youthful swagger, tremendous heart and a dark, mischievous sense of humour, Stenham explores the fine line between neglect and active abuse. When Generation Y are forced to become parents to their own mothers and fathers, the adults are enabled to neglect all sense of responsibility. It’s a gobsmacking new take on the age-old battle between parents and their children over who gets to own the future.

Charles Spencer, critic for The Daily Telegraph, described it as “one of the most astonishing debuts I have seen in more than 30 years of theatre reviewing … a remarkable and unforgettable piece of theatre.” That Facewon the 2007 Evening Standard Award for Best New Play, 2007 Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright and was nominated for Best New Play at the 2009 Olivier Awards.

That Face will see Jennifer Ward-Lealand as audiences have never seen her before when she takes to the stage as the chain-smoking, pill-popping, alcoholic Martha. A bohemian beauty fixated on her teenage son, this mistress of manipulation borrows heavily from the legendary heroines of Tennessee Williams: “I would rather have led a short life of incomparable luxury and decadence, than a long and boring one…” A far cry indeed from her recent work in The Threepenny Opera, Le Sud and Oliver! 

Jennifer leads a company which also includes Rose McIver (currently onscreen as Lindsey Salmon in The Lovely Bones), Chelsie Preston Crayford (The Cult; Ruben Guthrie), Andrew Grainger (The Cult; Ruben Guthrie) and dazzling newcomer Dan Weekes, who makes his professional debut in the hugely challenging role of Henry, just weeks out of graduating from Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School.

Silo Theatre Artistic Director Shane Bosher is thrilled to follow up his critically acclaimed 2009 productions of Holding The Man and Ruben Guthrie with Polly Stenham’s theatrical knockout of a play: “Not since Edward Albee’s The Goat have I read a play which is so remarkably confident and exuberantly theatrical. Stenham writes with a veracity which belies her years and really sticks it to the middle class, exposing the spiritual bankruptcy at the heart of many a well-to-do home. It’s wickedly funny, fiercely passionate and strangely exhilarating. Total theatre for here and now. I can’t wait.” 

THAT FACE plays 19th March – 10th April 2010

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE®
Tickets: $25.00 – $45.00 (service fees will apply)
Tickets available through THE EDGE – or 09 357 3355 


SIMON COLEMAN:  Set and Lighting Design
SARAH:  Wardrobe assistant
PIP SMITH:  Props Master
LAURYN WATI:  Stage Manager
2 CONSTRUCT:  Set Construction

Stunningly confrontational

Review by Joanna Davies 23rd Mar 2010

The Herald Theatre is a madhouse, at least until April 10th.

Polly Stenham’s That Face yanks the Axminster out from under the feet of England’s middle-class families and lets Gen Y kids give their parents the finger. It’s the stark and absorbing tale of an already-broken family at crisis point. A thread of hysteria and panic binds everyone together as Martha, the mother, pulls it to breaking point.

Director Shane Bosher, and set and lighting designer Simon Coleman, have done a magnificent job of capturing and highlighting the play’s chaotic theme through the cast’s seamless performances on an immaculate set. The crisp whiteness lends an aura of calm to the manic action while creating a clinical feel – it’s as though the audience become behavioural analysts.

Both non-family characters reflect both extremes of the family’s reactions to Martha’s mental illness. Edith Poor’s Alice is voiceless and vulnerable throughout, personifying the quiet suffering felt by everyone Martha touches. On the other hand, Izzy (Rose McIver) is a self-absorbed, self-serving power-wielding queen who teaches Martha’s teenaged children, that everything has consequences.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s Martha is fun, fearsome and frightened. As the central figure she holds the work together while tearing her family apart. She manipulates them magnificently, demanding both loyalty and duty – while having enormous fun. But there’s no subterfuge to the character; her madness is genuine.

Martha’s children suffer separately. Mia (Chelsie Preston Crayford) is the voice of reason. Martha complains she doesn’t like her daughter because “she always interrupts”, but it’s what Mia says, rather than when, that antagonises her most.

Martha’s beautiful boy, her Russian-soldier son Henry, is masterfully played by newcomer Dan Weekes. Henry shoulders the responsibility for his mother’s wellbeing and never loses hope that he can make her well. It’s fair to say there are Oedipal hints to their tale, yet it is Martha’s response to Henry’s despair that leaves the audience squirming in their seats.

Near the play’s conclusion Andrew Grainger swoops in as Hugh, the ex-husband and estranged father. He battles with wresting control from his son and realises too late that when he chose to be ‘duty-free’ in Hong Kong, he gave up the right to assert himself as the Alpha Male.

For such an in-your-face play the audience was far older than I had expected (I suspect many were there for Ward-Lealand). At times you could hear hips creaking as they leaned back to get as much extra distance between themselves and the action on the stage, but for all that no one asked Martha to share her Valium.

That Face is stunningly confrontational. And unlike its characters, the production is flawless. In fact, it’s the best and most intimate theatre I’ve seen in far too long.
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Byline March 23rd, 2010

Went on Saturday night, as well as the creaking hips (those seats are quite uncomfortable) I had several seniors weeping around me at the end. Must say Dan Weekes was utterly wonderful as the teen trying to hold his mother together as reality and his mother's disease crashed in.  He really is a find for the acting community. Jennifer WL was also brilliant and the scene with the two of them clinging to each other like lovers was powerfully unconfortable ! I can see why he got this part.

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