Facial - Solo Voices - Theatre Royal Plymouth Review
‘Do you think you could live without a face?’
A strange question, you could say, but one that sends Chris White down a path of exploration, misunderstanding and spirally down towards a society that is falling apart at the seams.
Facial, written and performed by Chris White, is part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Solo Voices season, taking place in the Drum Theatre. It features Chris telling a dark and twisted story using poetry and comedy exploring the ideas of what could happen if people were to suddenly lose their facial features. How would they be able to communicate, go about their day to day lives and, ultimately, how would they be able to survive.
I have to admit that this performance, although thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating, was not exactly what I was expecting. When I first read the write up on the theatre royal’s website, I was thinking that it would be more of an exploration into the ‘don’t judge a book by the cover’ ideas surrounding faces and a person’s overall appearance, with some comedy and additional characters thrown in to create a story. But this wasn’t that. Instead, Facial is a dark comedy that, whilst questioning the importance of facial features, doesn’t do so in a way of appearance but instead in a way of survival, throwing the audience into a strange and twisted almost apocalyptic world where darkness takes over and people are merely pink featureless blurs. With some comedy and many a reference to Twix bars thrown in for good measure.
Facial is performed as a solo piece by Chris White, who plays a variety of characters throughout. These characters include Debbie, who through a chance meeting with Chris, finds herself in a dangerous situation and Rob, a cop with a dark past who is determined to discover what is going on. White is full of energy, bouncing around the stage and delighting in interacting both his large face prop and with the audience. He spreads the action out across the stage, moving from a mic stand on one side the face in the centre and another stand from which he presents a fair amount of scientific knowledge about faces. On this perhaps bare stage, one person could become lost, but White is able to command the stage and hold attention firmly on himself whilst turning the stage into a mass of scattered thoughts (literally) and fallen facial features as the story he tells becomes more and more strange and somewhat hypnotic.
The music, by Hal Kelly, is perhaps a little overbearing at times, filling the small Drum performance space and drowning out the action just a touch. I couldn’t quite decide if it was meant to be this way or not, meant to create a somewhat eerie and daunting feeling as the story unravelled, but either way, it was a touch loud at times in my opinion. Throughout the show, there were a number of moments where White would break character, break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, claiming that something hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Be this suggesting that he forgot to mention something about a character, read out the wrong poem at the wrong time or underestimated the stickiness of jelly, whilst these moments were funny and perhaps gave a brief break from the darker elements of the story, I was left wondering if things had actually gone wrong or whether it had all been a part of the plan.
Overall, Facial is an exploration into the importance of the face, educating audiences on just how incredible the human body is able to cram so much in just our faces whilst questioning what would happen if we didn’t have it. Would people just be able to get on with their lives or would the whole world fall apart? With moments of touching truth with throwbacks to growing up with struggles of camera shyness or acne, or the good old days when you had to wait for Boots to print your photos, it mixes relatability with absurdity with White making it look easy to command a stage completely solo for around 70 minutes.