views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Face to Face
The Drayton Theatre
16th May 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Face to Face

Photography © Leanne Gillam

Do you remember the old days when we used to carry a supply of 10 penny pieces around just in case we needed to ring home? In fact, I think carrying a coin was mandatory if you were a Brownie or a Scout, "be prepared" and all that. Nowadays, if you want to get in touch with someone, there are options coming out of your ears. Make a call, send a text, an email, a Tweet, a poke, use Skype, FaceTime - technology has in many ways brought us closer together and revolutionised the way we communicate. However, sometimes you just need to speak to someone in person. In Heather Jeffrey's play Face to Face, we're reminded of the power of this good old-fashioned means of contact.

Following a car accident, artist Rachel (Rebecca Bell) hasn't left her studio. She claims to find walking too difficult due to injury, and a knee brace and crutches certainly support this, but whenever she's on her own, suddenly she doesn't seem to need either. Funny that. Sister Ajani (Lindsey Chaplin) selects Greg (Tom Telford) to be Rachel's next muse, sending him to the studio to - well, inspire her, I suppose. But he seems mainly to be scared and confused by her; Rachel's methods are unorthodox to say the least. An uncomfortable dynamic is established between Rachel and Greg and it takes a turn for the even weirder when Ajani's boyfriend Shaun (Joey Bartram) rocks up and starts mouthing off. It's all a bit awkward, and yet compelling to watch unfold.

Set designer Ellis Higgins uses artwork by Hardijs Gruduls to create an authentic melting pot of half-finished ideas and pure creativity. The stage is littered with sketches, paintings and sculptures, all mirroring Rachel's chaotic state of mind. There's an outward beauty in the art that we see, despite the overall cluttered effect, and we expect there to be something beautiful inside Rachel too. However, this is a character who is never fully realised. She's hard and perhaps even cruel in her interactions with Greg, her behaviour often stilted and her dialogue very cerebral but ultimately pretentious. She's meant to be damaged, but she's mostly difficult to empathise with, and we never manage to truly get inside her head.

Greg however is as funny as Rachel is cold and brings some much needed warmth to the production. He perpetually cracks jokes which she just doesn't get, or plain ignores, but bless him, dear old Greg is a trier and that underdog charm wins us over. We're painfully aware that Rachel doesn't seem to like him much, but we just want her to give him a chance. The relationship between Ajani and Shaun initially gives us cause for concern, but we then wonder whether there are truly deep-rooted issues there or if Rachel is manipulating us. She insists on knowing everything about everyone else, but she's so closed off. Even reveals about her past feel artificial, leaving us us to try to work out what's going on using only Greg as a touchstone.

Director Niall Phillips effectively marks the passage of time with Rachel crossing out and rewriting the date on one of the walls, and lighting designer Çağla Temizsoy and sound designer Craig Standen team up to frame Rachel's difficulty in sleeping, with harsh spotlights against some frantic guitar strumming. In these moments free of spoken dialogue, we come the closest to understanding her. The night time scribblings are not those of an artist struck by a sudden idea; they're instead a coping outlet for the emotions she struggles to process.

We're quickly fed some curious facts, but for the vast majority of Face to Face, how these all link together is kept a mystery. We don't know where Jeffrey is going until about 10 minutes before curtain down and whilst that does lead to a certain intrigue, it's also sometimes frustrating. The lighting and set design are striking, and the elements of awkward comedy are executed well, but the script itself does hinder the pacing and characterisation. In some ways, the entire production is like that black cloud of Rachel's - we can definitely see something in it, but it's not immediately clear what.

Face to Face opened on 28th April and runs until 23rd May 2015 at the Drayton Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Gloucester Road (Piccadilly, Circle, District)



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