Intertwined stories of femininity
Stormface, by Kate Collins, follows the stories of four people undergoing various struggles and questioning their place in the world around them. O (Dolores Carbonari) and J (Daisy Jones), a long-term lesbian couple, try to hold on to their relationship while dealing with the pain of loss. R (Tom Taplin) begins the play obsessing over 1940s actress, leading him to question his gender identity and his place in society. Finally, E (Rachel Kitts) is a young girl suffering from mental health issues as she goes through puberty. Their stories unfold in parallel, sometimes intersecting, as they decide what femininity means to them.
Kate Collins excels at writing powerful emotional dialogue, and the cast meet its challenges with confidence. O and J’s relationship feels real right from the off; every scene they share involves an argument, which makes their ability to convey their love all the more impressive. Collins also juxtaposes humour and pain to great effect: J and R had the entire audience laughing in spite of the overarching dark tones of the play. R and E also mask their struggles by making the audience laugh, and, as a result, when they lay their pain bare it is even more poignant. In one of the most powerful scenes of the evening, R and E stand at opposite ends of the stage, facing the audience. Their lines overlap, bouncing back and forth, sometimes delivered together, as the two characters describe their self-harm.
The writing sometimes reaches for lofty existential heights, and is mostly successful in doing so. E’s description of a space station, for instance, perfectly conveys her desperate desire to flee from a world of excess to one of clean, sharp simplicity. Some of the more poetic lines come from Tom Taplin’s nervous and endearing R – a standout performance even among a strong cast – who sells “a diamond on the side of her face” and “the lacerations in my heart” with layered intensity.
A screen behind the actors and well-chosen sounds help provide context, setting scenes in a park and a hospital, and showing clips of O and J’s dog and of R’s “DVD woman”. The occasional music is unnerving and loud, reflecting the intensity, the pressure, and the noise in the characters’ minds. The play uses both the screen and sound sparingly but effectively, except in the case of the butterflies. Butterflies are a recurring image throughout the play, and are one of my biggest gripes with it. Stormface opens to a time lapse of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, and at various points butterflies appear either on the screen or in the dialogue. In and of itself the rebirth metaphor is very on the nose and unnecessary; when taking into account the association between butterflies and the glamorisation of eating disorders, their prevalence in a play in which one of the characters suffers from an eating disorder is tasteless and a little troubling.
For all the strength of the writing in specific scenes and lines, the play needs some editing. It sets out to tell three interwoven stories, but its execution feels loose and disjointed and way too long. Stormface is all about what isn’t said, and while that is often effective for showing how difficult explaining one’s struggles can be, it sometimes leaves the audience unnecessarily confused. A tighter narrative would have kept all the main story beats while packing a stronger punch. At its strongest, all I could think while watching Stormface was “wow”. I only wish the play as a whole had left me with the same impression.
Stormface is on at the ADC until Friday, 2nd March. Tickets are £6-£7.