REVIEW: FACE THE CAMERA AND SMILE (Above The Arts Theatre) ★★★★

IMG_5375 (1)Face the Camera and Smile, written by Dan Horrigan, was shortlisted for The Kings Cross Award for New Writing in 2009. This play, about the impact of war on the individuals involved seems very relevant in the month when we finally hear the contents of the Chilcot Report.

The tale is told by four characters united by conflict: two who experienced the horrors of war first hand and two who did not and seek to understand. Ollie is a soldier, facially scarred in a bomb blast. Sarah is a photographer who captured the moment Ollie was injured. Ollie’s wife Joanne is committed to her husband’s recovery and keeping her family together. Carl is the actor cast to play Ollie in a film inspired by Sarah’s photograph who is trying to get under the skin of the role.

The characters are explored and developed through their conversations with one another. Sarah grudgingly returns to photograph Ollie through his recovery as his face is rebuilt to resemble the one in her picture. Their shared experience does not bond them as we might expect. Joanne encourages Ollie to talk about what happened to him and reassures him that she still loves him as her husband. Carl speaks to Sarah and Ollie about their recollections of the incident, revealing them both to be unreliable narrators. Joanne and Sarah both coax Carl to represent Ollie in the way they would prefer.

The characters are what make this play compelling. Felix Dunning as Ollie is convincing as the soldier haunted by his experience and wanting or needing to forget. The female characters bring out very different sides to this man. His engagement with Sarah (Carla Turner) as she takes his picture again and again is very unlike his role as the damaged husband of Joanne (Charlotte Couture). Turner and Couture’s representations of these women and their responses to Ollie feel very real. Sarah speaks about other women she encountered in the conflict zone, allowing their story to be included although they are not present on stage. The most slightly drawn character here is Fergal Philips’s Carl; important in that he has been chosen to tell Ollie’s story, yet the furthest from it with the most to question.

Horrigan has said that he sees his play as addressing the importance of consent in ending conflict responsibly. In doing this he gives what seems to be a well-researched and thoughtfully presented insight into the human impact of war that continues even after the conflict has ended. This play had a single showing at Upstairs at The Arts, it certainly deserves a longer run.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans