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That Face

By Polly Stenham

That Face premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in April 2007, and won the TMA Award 2007 for Best New Play. Polly Stenham received both the Charles Wintour Award 2007 and the Evening Standard Critics’ Circle Award 2008 for Most Promising Playwright.

In late 2009, the play was named at no. 9 in The Times Top Twenty Plays of the Decade. It also received three Olivier Award nominations before finding its’ way onto the set text list for Drama A Level.

When Mia is expelled from school for drugging and torturing another pupil, we are soon introduced to her seriously dysfunctional family. However, this is no poor, working class tale of drink, drugs and a broken marriage. Mia’s Daddy is rich…very rich! Polly Stenham’s blistering debut ”…is a hard hitting, intense and visceral dissection of children who become parents to their parents,” exploring Martha, a woman on the brink. As daddy flies in from Hong Kong to sort things out once and for all, Martha’s dependency on alcohol, anti-depressants and Henry her son increases. The uncomfortable end leaves the audience wondering who needs saving the most.

Stenham herself said of the play, : “I had been going to the Royal Court since I was a little kid and constantly seen plays set on council estates but seeing the people watching them wearing pearls. It seemed an inconsistency that needed to be addressed. I wanted to stress the fact that there are plenty of instances in real life where money has been the enabler of those desperate situations rather than the disabler. I hadn’t seen anything like that before.”

That Face poster

The playwright - Polly Stenham

Polly Stenham was born in 1986 and wrote her first play, That Face, with the support of The Royal Court writer’s group, at nineteen years of age.

Educated at the private boarding school Wycombe Abbey and later Rugby, she spent a gap year travelling and working for the Ambassador Theatre Group and the Arcola Theatre. It was during this time that she enrolled in the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and wrote That Face.

She began a degree in English at University College London, but abandoned her place to work on her debut play after hearing it was to be staged and following the death of her father in 2006.

Her second play, Tusk Tusk premiered in the downstairs theatre at the Royal Court in March 2009 and she has adapted her first two plays for the screen. In 2013 her third play No Quarter was staged at the Royal Court, directed by Jeremy Herrin and starring Tom Sturridge.

In 2013 film director Nicolas Winding Refn asked Stenham to write the screenplay for his next project, I Walk With the Dead using anall female cast. Refn admitted that he asked Stenham to write the screenplay to tackle his own perceived inability to write female characters. The project was later renamed The Neon Demon and was released in June 2016 to mixed reviews.

In June 2018 Stenham was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its “40 Under 40” initiative.

Polly Stenham