Sarita Gabony plays Izzy in the first major London revival of Polly Stenham’s That Face, playing at the Orange Tree Theatre.
Josh Seymour directs Niamh Cusack alongside Kasper Hilton-Hille, Dominic Mafham, Sarita Gabony and Bridgerton’s Ruby Stokes in this powerful and darkly comic exploration of what happens when children become parents to their parents.
That Face is Stenham’s debut play and won the Evening Standard Charles Wintour Award, the TMA Best New Play Award, and the Critics’ Circle Award. The production opens at the Orange Tree Theatre on 13 September with previews from 9 September and runs until 7 October.
You’re appearing in That Face at the Orange Tree, what can you tell us about the play
That Face is a beautifully messy and heart wrenching insight into a dysfunctional family in which teenagers become parents to their parents. It is an emotional web of profound need and misplaced love being stretched to the limit in all directions.
Our production at the Orange Tree is set in relatively small space and in the round, so audiences experience co-existing with these complex characters in an intimate and extremely detailed and therefore captivating way.
The word that comes to mind is care. The show allows space for us to consider our duty of care to our parents, our siblings, our children, our friends, and perhaps most importantly, to ourselves.
What was it about Polly Stenham’s script that made you keen to be a part of this production?
Our incredible voice coach Tess Dignan described the characters as trees whose roots are entirely entangled and interwoven. What made me keen to be a part of the production is the immense beauty that is revealed in the play when life events start excavating these roots. The human need for connection and sense that we are part of something much bigger than an individual struck me in such a visceral way when I first read the script.
I wonder why, when our childhoods and teenage years are such a formative time, we so often tell stories about teenagers in a way which undermines and patronises them and dismisses their struggles as superficial. Or why so often shows centred around teenagers are marketed as only ‘for’ teenagers?
When I first read That Face I discovered a rare piece of work which explores young characters with such nuance and respect. It allows audiences of any age to consider how their thoughts, feelings, and desires were formed by the environment they grew up in, and maybe therefore what kind of environment they want to be a part of creating.
You’re playing Izzy, what excites you most about the character?
How outrageously unfiltered she is. She is utterly determined. She wants to be the best at everything, whether that’s the most powerful head of dorm, a perfect prefect, the most fearsome bully, the biggest rebel, the best one-night stand and, hopefully, an inimitable girlfriend. She isn’t concerned with politeness or niceties.
It is exciting that we meet Izzy at a stage where everything is a discovery. She is unaware of the sheltered bubble she has lived in, of the consequences of her horrendous actions, and of the scars of what I imagine her own struggles growing up to have been. Once her plan to progress from head of dorm, to prefect, to top university student crumbles when she gets in trouble, she has to grapple with what it is to be a rebel, new intense sexual feelings for Henry, and a newfound allyship with Mia outside of the dorm culture where all the girls are pitted against each other.
In a play centring around two teenagers, Henry and Mia, who have had to be far more mature and empathetic than their age, Izzy is allowed to be playful, stroppy, flirtatious, and blissfully ignorant, exposing the importance of being allowed to be a child.
Her relationship with Henry reveals a wonderful juxtaposition, when her vivid child-like imagination which creates her own fantasy land mixes with ‘adult’ feelings of lust and longing.
And what do you think will be the biggest challenge?
Finding opportunity for pockets of vulnerability in a character who has been raised to be fiercely independent from a young age in a brutal, hierarchical boarding school environment.
This is the play’s first major revival in London since 2007, why do you think now is the right time for it to come back?
I think it’s a pretty timeless play. But I wonder with the boiling pot of Covid and lockdowns (with teenagers spending more time at home) and the cost-of-living crisis (meaning young people living with family often well into adulthood) if it is especially interesting to explore the workings of family and question our responsibilities within that.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see That Face?
Bring some tissues and a loved one to hug tight!