Writer: Mick Cooper
Director: Peter Easterbrook
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
Braving Faces is a play that examines some of the issues behind one of the greatest scandals of 2013. When the programme states that the male lead is a ’disgraced 1970s TV star…who is seeking to rehabilitate into society’, it’s not too hard to guess what H Munroe’s secret past will be about. Such incendiary material needs careful, thoughtful and thoroughly researched playwriting if it is to do justice to the topic, and it is here that the play occasionally falls short, despite two strong central performances.
The play opens with the premise that a young film graduate has been hired by a writer’s agent to turn his novel Hollywood Eleven into a screenplay. The process of her doing this from a handwritten original script, when the writer’s agent would surely have had an electronic one, isn’t quite convincing, though it does underline that H Munroe, the author, does not access the internet. The first part section of the play acts like a series of mini lectures with discourses on the persecution of Communists in McCarthy era Hollywood and an introduction to Pontoon, complete with a demonstration of several hands being played. This tendency for the play to drift into characters narrating stories, rather than seeing the characters in action being the story, is a weakness and is repeated again later with the rather hackneyed story of Running Wolf.
Louise Wilson is initially endearing as Chloe Hannigan, the screenplay writer, before her transformation into an agent of vengeance. Wilson makes the change credibly and her flashes of anger and violence are genuinely unnerving. Leo Atkins plays the challenging rôle of author H Munroe (a nom de plume for the disgraced TV star Richie Alexander). Atkins has a wonderful voice and is convincing as the urbane author and man with a hidden past. Once that past is revealed, his is perhaps a little less convincing in some of the key emotional beats, but in his ordinariness he is chilling.
The processes by which sex offenders are dealt with in the criminal justice system, their supervision and restrictions after release from prison and the complex psychological defences of their denial of their actions are all somewhat glossed over by the writing so a degree of credibility is absent from the second half of the play. Munroe/Alexander’s final injunction that if we physically and psychologically abuse sex offenders we’d have more success than the Courts is repellent. This is compounded by H Munroe’s disappearance, we presume having come to a grisly end. The interesting question as to whether or not revenge exacted in this way is satisfying is skipped over.
Peter Easterbrook directs with efficiency, though there are a couple of odd and forced pieces of blocking, and a couple of points where light go up and down for no apparent reason (unless these were errors in the box).
There are many important and challenging questions that society has to debate about standards of sexual behaviour in different generations and the treatment and reintegration of sex offenders. Braving Faces makes some contribution to that debate, but mostly opens up questions to which there are no satisfying answers or insights, and that is a missed opportunity given the talent of the cast.