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When 19 year old Polly Stenham's play
at Face had its debut on the UK stage
in 2007, Charles Spencer, theatre critic for
the UK's Daily Telegraph described it as 'one of the
most astonishing debuts I have seen in more than 30
years of theatre reviewing'. Now Australian audiences
will get to see just what set Spencer's blood pumping
when Company B gives Stenham's work its Austral-
ian debut this month.
Director Lee Lewis makes her mainstage debut for
Company B with at Face. It's the rst production
in what is sure to be a stellar year for the young direc-
tor, who will also helm Honour for STC and Twel h
Night for Bell Shakespeare. At the moment though,
Lewis' focus is strictly on Stenham's scathing piece
which she describes as variously "Gen Y 's revenge on
the baby boomers" and a "compelling contemporary
drama that resonates with the themes of theatrical
Polly Stenham's play revolves around some familiar
issues -- that age old power struggle between parents
and children is explored -- but in Stenham's hands the
stakes have been raised with a portrait of a family in
crisis, complete with an alcoholic pill-popping moth-
er, her dyfunctional children and their absent father...
Lewis had been a fan of the play since she stumbled
upon it a few years ago. "I just loved the erceness of
her voice. It was absolutely uncompromising in its
judgements in that great young way that is really not
forgiving of weaknesses."
Naturally when the opportunity arose to direct the
play, Lewis was over the moon. "I expected it would
get scooped up by one of the big companies and that
would be it, I'd never get a chance to do it -- but then
the o er came up which was fantastic."
Lewis admits she was particularly drawn to the
truthfulness of Stenham's characters. "I think for
her to have such a grasp of language and the density
of the language and the erceness of judgements was
extraordinary. e psycholog y behind it is amazing to
unpick and can be exhausting."
So how does she think the audience will cope with
the play's unrelenting pace?
"I think they'll be surprised by how much they
identify with it,"
muses Lewis. "De-
spite the extreme
situation of the
play -- there is still
amount of human-
ity in it."
She adds, "It's
funny when you
spend a week in
rehearsal with a
family and then
you go home for
you see some of
the elements of
come into play
-- you're pretty
glad your fam-
ily is pretty
normal." Indeed, there's an adage that no-one can
hurt you like the ones you love and Stenham's play re-
ally brings this notion to bear.
Lewis agrees: "It's incredible how people that love
each other and know each other that well, can wound
each other so speci cally. So I think the audience will
be surprised by how much they recognise."
Interestingly Stenham has chosen to situate her
dysfunctional family in the realms of privilege, not
the squalor of the slums.
"It reminds us that wealth can actually hide massive
problems," says Lewis. "If this family didn't have the
money they have, DOCS would have been involved
years ago. e damage done to these children is ex-
traordinary -- you never get over these scars."
To get an insight into the lives of a family living
with addiction, Lewis trawled the internet soaking up
videos of interviews of children whose parents were
alcoholics. " e damage that was done because they
had to parent their parent was extraordinary. It meant
they didn't have a childhood from which they could
construct a healthy adult -- they had no sense of what
normal is. eir relativity was completely fucked up."
It's upon this idea that Stenham has hung much of
the action of the play. "I nd it very scary," says Lewis,
"in that she doesn't o er so options. ere's no cure
or healing - just this awful realisation..."
That Face is now playing at Belvoir Street Theatre.
Gen Y's revenge... By Cec Busby.
"Despite the extreme situation of the play -- there is
still an extraordinary amount of humanity in it."
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