Face To Face
The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Face To Face holds the mirror up to Andrew Upton’s solo gig, writes Linda Beattie.
The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) has been undergoing significant changes recently starting with the announcement that Cate Blanchett would not be returning as co-artistic director in 2014.
The announcement coincided with the opening of the company’s Face To Face, a play co-adapted for the stage by director Simon Stone and Blanchett’s co-artistic director and husband, Andrew Upton, from Ingmar Bergman’s 1976 screenplay of the same name.
By mid-August, Upton had agreed to be reappointed and will take up the position in 2014 as sole artistic director. Sydney Theatre Company chairman, David Gonski, announced on the company’s website that, “We [The Board] are very pleased that we were able to convince Andrew to accept another three-year-term.” Gonski’s press release elicited a razor sharp observation from Crikey’s arts columnist, Ben Eltham, “Securing Upton locks in STC’s most valuable asset for another three years: Blanchett herself”.
Expressing a similar sentiment, The Australian’s Matthew Westwood wrote, “Theatre-goers will decide – and in recent years their attendance at STC has been in decline – whether they like the Upton brand minus his famous missus.”
Veteran actor, Bill Charlton, offered his thoughts after seeing Face To Face. “Upton and Stone’s adaptation should make the sponsors feel very secure indeed. The production has a Chekovian inevitability about it, mixed with humour that provides hope in the face of adversity. This is devastating theatre with unforgettable performances from John Gaden and Kerry Fox,” he said.
“Famous actors of either gender have historically been able to raise money as well as awareness with greater success than well-known directors or writers. We recall that Blanchett was the face of the Government’s Climate Change Campaign, not her writer husband,” Charlton added.
Face To Face explores the breakdown of a professional woman, Jenny (Kerry Fox) who as a child was traumatised by the death of her parents, and, later in life she struggles to come to terms with it.
Face To Face has drawn some mixed reviews but largely enthusiastic audiences; STC subscriber, Nizza Siano spoke about how she was, “Moved to tears towards the end of the play” when Jenny channels memories of her father through a projection of her uncle (John Gaden).
Gaden said memory is crucial to feeling and hence to defining who we are. “If you deny memory, you lose your way in the world. This is what has happened to Jenny, she doesn’t feel anything because she has repressed her memories, she can’t find her way home.”
Gaden said that his character, Uncle, is “Suffering some form of mental decline and this physical forced loss of memory parallels with Jenny’s brain which has been psychically shut down.”
The penultimate scene reveals the unresolved childhood trauma responsible for the “shut down.”
Gaden’s performance as the elderly, confused Uncle strikes a strong emotional chord when he urges Jenny, “Don’t be like me, I’ve forgotten how to get home.”
Face To Face packs a psychic punch from the moment the audience is catapulted into the action.
In a series of compressed scenes, like slides across a screen, Jenny portrayed in multiple ways that serve as a suitable motif for the way she conducts her relationships: ineffectual psychiatrist, dysfunctional mother, uncommitted lover, wife on long-distance call to unseen husband.
In one scene, Jenny breaks down after a failed rape attempt where she is shocked into discovering the truth behind her inability to feel emotion.
Jenny’s tragedy is that after being numbed down since childhood, the experience of reality ‘face to face’ is unbearable and she attempts suicide as the ultimate palliative.
Face To Face is a disturbing journey through the inner workings of a woman in crisis, and while it has moments of humour, is not for those looking for light-hearted entertainment. This is theatre, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, for the judicious.
Judging by this production, Andrew Upton’s solo appointment is likely to be just as good as the double act.
Face To Face is currently showing and closes on September 8.