FACE TO FACE, Drayton Theatre - Review

In a world where it’s possible to contact anyone globally via digital technology, it’s striking how in today’s society alienation is rife. Social media has replaced to a large degree face-to-face interaction, yet the need for organisations like the Samaritans has never been higher.

A year ago exactly to the month, Niall Phillips directed a play at the Drayton Theatre (The Beloved by Chantelle Dusette) which featured a housebound lady whose solitary existence is interrupted by the arrival of a young man. Phillips returns to similar themes at the same space with the latest play by Heather Jeffery, the artistic director of Changing Spaces Theatre.

In Face To Face, Jeffery explores the dichotomy in today’s world between the ubiquity of telecommunications and the absence of real human contact, and the struggle of the ‘suffering’ stoical artist against the ‘need’ for social affirmation.

Rebecca Bell stars as Rachel, the artist in question who is recovering from an injury sustained to her leg a year ago, Adjani (Lindsey Chaplin), her friend and agent, sets her up with Greg (Tom Telford), an established author, for a sitting for her latest project. Both parties are initially apprehensive, but over time Rachel and Greg grow more accustomed to each other. However Adjani’s boyfriend Shaun (Joey Bertram) hints to Rachel that there’s something troubling in Greg’s past. As she has never been one to trust Shaun, Rachel takes his comments with a pinch of salt, but ultimately the seeds of doubt are sown…

Upon watching Face To Face, it is plain to see that Jeffery has written Rachel as a complex character. She lives by herself, permanently indoors, but her projects involve getting her subjects to ‘open up’ so that can portray the ‘real’ them. However she is reticent to divulge about herself in the same way, preferring to be the person asking questions. When Shaun meets Rachel in person, she finds his efforts at physical affection obtrusive and very uncomfortable – her body language suggesting he has 'crossed a line'. However, when Rachel speaks to the perennially busy Adjani via Skype, she yearns to speak to her in person. Sometimes a screen is not adequate at all…

‘Real’ communication is a theme that Jeffery returns to throughout the play. During the first 20 minutes of the play, Rachel and Greg discuss for some time the goals and intrinsic qualities behind artistic endeavours. While this philosophical conversation is interesting in its own right, the audience is more likely to pick up on the non-verbal clues littered throughout the play.

Evoking at times the tense, foreboding atmosphere of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Craig Standen’s sound design for Face To Face ‘suggests’ the noisy emotional turmoil from the world outside and within.

Ultimately the play’s denouement sheds light on not only Rachel’s backstory, but also the pain and concerns of the other characters. I wouldn’t mind watching Face To Face again to see if all the things I was picking up unconsciously, but finding hard to articulate, bear out with hindsight.

© Michael Davis

Face To Face runs at the Drayton Theatre until 23 May 2015.

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