Season One of the MKA’s Theatre of New Writing keeps getting better with the latest addition from playwright Glyn Roberts and director Felix Ching Ching Ho, The Horror Face. Contrary to the name, while this piece does contain elements of horror, it’s also very funny and frequently surreal. It’s a three act structure, with each third functioning both as an individual vignette but also as a part of a larger interconnected story. The exact links between each segment will be something you will hotly debate after the show, but the beauty of each is that they work equally well alone or taken as a whole.
The common elements between each of the acts are that each has two strands that come together at the end, one of which is always some kind of presentation to the audience; and a recurring inspection of the lions inside all of us. Each actor plays a different character in each act, but subtle commonalities link their roles like different notes played on the same string.
Brendan McCallum and Annie Last both show great versatility in these roles, the latter bringing a hilariously deranged sense of horror to the stage as a human/lion hybrid. Matt Young is certainly believable as a composite organism holding the DNA all of humanity, although he is given less of an opportunity to show his range than the rest of the quartet. But Soren Jensen is really the axis on which all of the stories swing and he is simply fantastic, shifting between motivational go-getter to anxious boffin to coldly aggressive lion, sometimes in the space of a single sentence. It’s a genuinely fascinating performance and recommends the play on the strength of this alone.
The sound design is meticulously conceived - there is a low level throbbing continuously throughout all three acts, which rises in intensity during moments of tension. It’s so underplayed you barely notice it, but the effect it has is undeniable. The set design is minimalist: sterile plastic sheets and a single white block prove remarkably effective at setting the stage for almost anywhere. In a nice touch, the audience itself is incorporated into the set by being given lab coats to don as they enter, and indeed Jensen frequently addresses the audience in this context, a mechanism so effective that it wouldn’t have been surprising if some of the crowd had spoken back to Jensen when asked a rhetorical question.
Perhaps what’s most important to note is just how funny all of this is - the surreal scenarios hit the perfect balance between sense and nonsense that trips the funny bone, and combined with the sparkling dialogue and Jensen’s ardent delivery, you’ll leave the theatre feeling both amused and intrigued.