Stone Face at the Finborough Theatre
The haunting new play written by Eve Leigh, Stone Face is being housed by the intimate back room above the Finborough Arms. In spite of this unassuming locale, the Finborough Theatre commands a loud reputation as one of the leading off-Broadway theatres, and judging by the emotional bite of Stone Face, it’s easy to see why.
The play’s storyline concerns the unimaginable level of abuse sadly familiar to all of us who remember the Josef Fritzl case, where parental authority was distorted to illogical depths of cruelty and the outside world was completely shut out. Here it concerns Katherine (a very affecting Ellie Turner) whose alcoholic mother kept her in the same cot for 15 years, leaving her unable to talk or walk, with an almost rigor mortis like condition in her limbs.The play follows the attempts of private practice psychiatrist Dr Cutler (Liz Jadav) and Katherine’s estranged half-sister, tomboyish Ali (Turner), to help her overcome these debilitating weaknesses, with the help of various games, lessons and the silent comedy genius of Buster Keaton.
The intimate confines of this small theatre make an inspired locus for a story as heavily dependent on themes of claustrophobic entrapment as this one, with the omnipresence of the same two actors throughout, Jadav and Turner, furthering Stone Face’s uncommon closeness. The stage design by Loren Elstein is remarkably effective in making the most of the limited resources available in the cut-out enclave of a stage that the actors have to work with. The two actors themselves remould the surroundings by themselves, like life-size Lego bricks with great skill and speed as every scene ends – including a pull-out glass table for a scene that takes place in a bar, with the space then reverting back to into the foam and plastic padding of Katherine’s play room. It’s like an exercise in kinetic performance art that, when matched with the eerie score, is practically worth the price of admission alone.
Perhaps the stagecraft stands out so much because elsewhere the production’s execution doesn’t quite match its ambitious intentions to be “fairy-tale about modern Britain”. The writing is strong at laying out a tense and painful canvas of the characters’ despair and doubt about the task they face, but it also falls flat at points by lapsing into melodramatic monologues that undercut the sober realism of the story, and clumsily raising certain political issues such as the NHS. The performers’ flaws such as shaky accents and laboured pauses are present but overcome as the play progresses with the emotional content becoming more palpable. Overall the production team behind Stone Face may not have realised all of the ambitious social commentary of the play, if it was there in the first place, but they have managed to tell a moving tale with great skill.
Stone Face is on at the Finborough Theatre from 17th May until 11th June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.