Saturday, 22 February 2014

Fringe review: 'Yours the Face'

Quiet Little Fox, Tandanya - Firefly, 15 February-1 March 2014. Written by Fleur Kilpatrick, dramaturgy by Raimondo Cortese. Directed by Robert Reid and Sarah Walker.

A photographer and his subject, a beautiful but damaged model, are played by the same actor in Fleur Kilpatrick’s ‘duet for solo voice’ Yours the Face. The function of the conceit – and it is one that mostly works – is, according to the playwright, to prevent the audience’s objectification of a female actor in the role of a model.

Roderick Cairns is excellent in both modes, physically lithe and emotionally brittle as the troubled Emmy, hard-edged and unaffected as the straight-talking Aussie photographer Peter. Kilpatrick milks the contrast between the outwardly genteel model and the gruff photographer to sustained and successful comic effect. One of the pleasures of this production is watching Cairns keep up with these tonal shifts which grow steadily darker as more is revealed of Emmy’s chequered past.   

The couple meet, naturally, at a shoot, their respective solitudes cancelling each other out in a blaze of studio light flashes and pounding techno. The honeymoon period is brief as the jet setting and drugs take their toll and the old silences of their lives return, alone together, the weight of personal demons ultimately crushing the thrill of young love.

Kilpatrick’s writing is sharp and grittily profane but often funny, reminiscent in places of contemporary American dramatists such as Neil LaBute and David Mamet. The playwright’s program notes gesture towards another stateside influence, realist painter Edward Hopper, in their evocation of lost souls permanently in transit, belonging only in ‘airport terminals, in hotel lobbies, in hire cars’.

The play is not, however, as melancholic as all that, mostly because the set up is not that of one of Hopper’s icy Midwestern tableaus, but rather that of a classic odd couple tale, told in brisk monologues whose backdrop is the razzle-dazzle world of high fashion. There is something inscrutable about both Emmy and Peter which this reviewer found frustrating, but their uneven, quietly obsessional relationship is lent a graspable reality by Cairns’ skilfully distinct characterisations. The inevitable breakup, when it comes, is strange and affecting.

While it is playing, Yours the Face is unquestionably enjoyable, its studied interiority making for an intimate and involving experience. Afterwards, however, I felt uncertain what its casually satisfying parts amounted to. There are intriguing suggestions in Kilpatrick’s script of bigger stories – of the costs and consequences of physical beauty, of the alienating effects of globalisation, of the differing narcissisms of both the loved and the unloved – but nothing quite sticks. It is perhaps, too, an unintended result of Cairns’ bravura soloing that it is easy to see Yours the Face as a play which does not add up to much more than a performance vehicle, albeit an unusually well-crafted and pleasurable one.     

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