Stone Face

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Stone Face, Finborough

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A former child captive struggles to adapt to freedom in this new play from Eve Leigh

We’re both horrified and fascinated by stories of children rescued from captivity, like the Fritzl case in Austria. Confined their entire lives, how do they begin to negotiate the world outside, if they’ve never known it?

This is the jumping off point for Eve Leigh’s fitfully fascinating but flawed new piece – which premieres at the Finborough Theatre, where her first full-length play, ‘Silent Planet’, debuted in 2014.

Catherine can’t walk properly, or talk. Kept from birth in a cot in a small London flat by her mother, no one – including half-sister Ali – knew she existed until she was discovered at 15. Now, funded by a newspaper campaign, she’s being treated privately. But this depends on column inches and cash is running out.

Leigh packs a lot into this two-hander about an imperilled NHS and the devastating consequences this has for patient-first care – Catherine is at the mercy of vested interests. But this is often done heavy-handedly, through speeches that strain credibility and knock characterisation.

This is particularly true of journalist Mel (Liz Jadav, also playing Catherine’s psychiatrist), whose disastrous intervention in Catherine’s treatment towards the end just feels too nakedly like plot-manoeuvring. We’re never given a clear sense of what motivates her – beyond Leigh’s desire to land a point.

Where this production succeeds is in the scenes of Catherine’s treatment. Ellie Turner (who also plays Ali) brilliantly conveys the physicality of her trauma. She’s an awkward tangle of unused limbs – mute, and palpably buried inside her own head. Through soft play and silent movies, her re-engagement is gripping.

This is where Leigh’s obvious research pays off, and director Roy Alexander Weise lets these moments breathe at their own speed – a projected backdrop on the arched set dividing the audience in two flickering with shots of grass, sky and MRI scans. There’s a sad stillness, a distance, that speaks wordlessly and well.

By: Tom Wicker

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