Writer: Heather Jeffery
Director: Niall Phillips
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
In the modern World, “face to face” can be taken to mean a conversation on Skype in which two-dimensional faces communicate, even though separated by however many miles; it can also relate to friendships formed on social media, where people project images of themselves which often mask the truth. This edgy new play by Heather Jeffery examines forms of connection and disconnection, many of which are new to the 21st Century.
Rachel (Rebecca Bell) is an artist. Before the play begins, she is crouched on the floor of her studio with her arms wrapped around herself in a defensive posture; grating music, incorporating repetitive ringtones, is playing loudly, suggesting that this is a troubled woman. Hearing the doorbell, she runs across the room to put on a knee support and grabs her crutches. She is, in fact, erecting another defensive wall, using a faked injury to justify her reclusiveness and to manipulate others.
The new arrival is Greg (Tom Telford), a successful writer who is to sit for a sculpture of himself, needed for publicity purposes. Rachel’s method is to dig beneath the surface and push the boundaries of privacy in order to capture the vulnerability of her subjects. She poses searching questions, provokes angry responses and seeks to examine social media accounts. Of course, the central irony is that it is Rachel herself who is the most secretive and most in need of opening out to others, following traumatic incidents a year earlier.
The sitting has been arranged, using Skype, by Ajani (Lindsey Chaplin), who acts as Rachel’s agent from afar, but has she sent Greg on a mission to rescue Rachel from her isolation? Is Ajani’s partner Shaun (Joey Bartram), who seems to be at odds with Greg, really his friend? Have Shaun and Rachel had a past affair? By making these and other situations ambiguous, Jeffery creates undercurrents of suspicion and mistrust, all arising from the characters’ inability to make tangible connections with each other.
Some stilted dialogue and occasional overplaying of scenes are irritating at first, but they also add to a sense of characters being ill at ease, thereby fuelling the tension in Niall Phillips’ production, which has the feel of a low-key thriller throughout. Bell captures Rachel’s nervy fragility convincingly and the studio that is her refuge is nicely realised in Ellis Higgins’ simple designs.
Jeffery’s 70 minute one-act play builds to a denouement that feels a little contrived and is less than fully satisfying, but the progress towards it is always intriguing.
Runs until 23rd May| Photo Sam Mellish