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Theatre Review: Losing Face

Imagine a scenario where you are estranged from a member of your family and you are about to meet them at their home after several years of no contact. It would be quite daunting, and as you made the journey, chances are you would imagine all sorts of potential interactions, some good, some not so good.

That is the premise of Nathan Joe’s latest play Losing Face. In this story, it is Christmas Eve and Jenn (Shervonne Grierson) is about to visit her father Mark (Andrew Ford). Mark is a middle aged white man who divorced Jenn’s Chinese mother after realising he was gay. He now lives with a much younger Chinese man called Shawn (Danny Lam). 

Losing Face is described as a reset play which means that scenes and actions are repeated several times with the dialogue and reactions changing upon each reset. It’s used cleverly in this play to indicate what each character would like to say as opposed to what they actually choose to say to one another. 

The added layering of the resets suggests that each of the characters keeps conjecturing how they will handle the reunion and how it could all go horribly wrong, particularly if they are completely frank about their thoughts and feelings. 

What plays out therefore is a series of imagined happenings that run the gamut from welcoming and loving, through to vehement accusations, and even murder. Some are surreal and highly sexualised, others more mundane. Most disturbing are scenes that depict racism, homophobia, and ageism.

From this, we learn that when someone is harbouring deep hurt, they can lash out in ways that are equally hurtful and damaging. 

The script of this play cleverly weaves between humour, bitterness, tenderness and a lot of the time, deep anger. There are tones of reconciliation with in it, and certainly the end of the play seems to suggest that this might all end happily. However, given what comes before, it’s by no means certain that all will turn out well. 

A major piece of the relationship tension is the fact that Mark is gay, and that Jenn is trying to make sense of a situation in which her father has ‘abandoned’ her and her idealised family life. In one of the reset scenes, she basically trashes the new life her father has created for himself with extremely offensive homophobic language. In defending himself Mark tries to explain how coming out is not something he planned, but this awakening freed him. In another scene, Jenn is supportive, so it’s not clear exactly what she thinks of her father’s sexuality.

This is an edgy play, and as it explores different feelings and reactions it naturally brings up both light and dark thoughts in its characters. This is a strength, but at the same time, while homosexuality is at the heart of the play, I don’t think it treats the core gay relationship kindly. It focusses more on the sexual nature of the relationship and the age gap rather than any romantic aspect, and right from the first scene, there is a combativeness between Shawn and Mark. I am left with an uneasy feeling about just what this story is saying about gay relationships, and in particular those with a definite difference in age. 

Whatever the answer is, I give due credit to the core cast of Grierson, Lamm, and Ford. They handled the resets with stunning skill, and managed to portray a multitude of personalities, emotions, and quirks admirably. They made each manifestation of their characters seem real and dynamic.

Losing Face is an intriguing play that seems to be trying to figure out how we humans handle difficult family dynamics. As the play concludes it seems that honing those dynamics is a work in progress. 

LOSING FACE

9-19 August 2023 Tickets and information

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