Friday, 12 July 2013

Face Value @ John Cooper Clarke Theatre, Salford

It’s less about faces and more about values. At its heart, Face Value, written by James Antonio, produced by Twin Bird and claiming the honour of the inaugural performance at the new biennial Nowt Part Of festival, is an exploration and critique of the two paradigms by which social beings of the 21st century most ostensibly judge and are judged: beauty and capital.

Opening with a heavily symbolic scene in which a woman whose face is obscured by bandages sits alone reading Cosmopolitan, watched over by an ornately-framed mirror, Face Value tells the story of Cindy (Cinthya Verenice Quijano), a 23-year-old orphan who ran away to London to pursue a modelling career, abandoning her carer and uncle, Simon (Kristian Parsons), and best-friend, Gemma (Christine Hall). Years later Cindy returns, following the disastrous outcome of her latest plastic surgery, to find that Gemma and Simon are an item expecting their first-child, and that Gemma has won the lottery.

This ‘happy’ hospital reunion is darkened by the appearance of Gemma’s ex, John (Clay Whitter), who left Gemma for Cindy and followed her to London, before eventually too leaving Cindy as her expected modelling income failed to materialise. Desperate, homeless and pursued for gambling debts, John demands £50,000 of Gemma’s lottery winnings, holding Cindy and Simon to ransom with a petrol-bomb. Thus the play directs each of its characters to choose between money (and fame, in Cindy’s case) or family and friends.

While Face Value could’ve easily succumbed to a twisting and, at times, illogical plotline cut with an overly-clichéd central theme, the play is rescued by two things. The first is the high quality of acting on display. Each member of the cast gives a uniquely believable performance, none more so than the incomparable Clay Whitter, who flits seamlessly between a rogue, a childlike paranoiac and a menacing thug, truly terrifying when riled.

The second is Antonio’s clever and occasionally hilarious script. That the plot itself rightly borders on the absurd is exemplified by various revelations and backstories. It is later revealed, for example, that the ‘petrol-bomb’ John carries is in truth merely a bottle of (hopefully his own) urine. Cindy’s calamitous operation, we find out, is the result of a London surgeon who tried to make her look like his 40-year-old dead wife. And at the play’s denouement, where Simon tells Cindy the story of her parents, it transpires that they died while having sex in a brand-new sports car.

Such moments of silliness link the play’s critique of the beauty-industry and commercial capitalism as a whole. Face Value achieves its indictment by grotesquely parodying the desperation that money and the will-to-fame inspire. Both macabre and gratifying, Face Value is well worth its minimal entry fee and augurs well for Nowt Part Of’s future offerings.

Words: Mike Bowden.

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