The Guardian

The show must go on

That Face

than a half Nelson). As Emma’s wry, working-class mother who cannot hold her plaintively entertaining tongue, Caroline Quentin is perfection, complaining that her carriage journey has rendered her “half woman, half syllabub”. Riad Richie plays Vincenzo, a lovestruck manservant, with comically crisp ardour – Emma disdainfully translates his flowing advances from the Italian to her mother.

In the second half, fortune’s wheel has turned and threatens to crush its former heroine. Caroline Quentin now plays Emma as an old lady and Rose becomes Horatia, Nelson’s sulky illegitimate daughter. All the gilding has gone and the pair shelter in a barn. Emma has long grey hair, a deluded smile and a bottle of liquor, and humiliatingly continues to pose as mythological figures, waving her tattered white shawl around – an attitude(s) problem. There is a trusty feminism to De Angelis’s writing – a sympathetic regard for women. As Emma’s old mother observes: “The world is kinder to boys.” Michael Oakley directs with aplomb.

was written when Polly Stenham was 19 – a formidable achievement. It opened in 2007 at the Royal Court. Director Josh Seymour’s shattering revival is an immersion in the extreme dysfunction of a middle-class family broken by alcoholism. As I was watching, I thought: this play should carry a (mental) health warning (and discovered later that it does). Niamh Cusack is phenomenal as Martha, the ageing mother, swerving terrifyingly between tipsy coquette and unhinged siren in an incestuous liaison with Henry, her lost boy of a son, played with haggard sweetness by Kasper Hilton-Hille, making his debut. Stenham creates unrelentingly shocking tension, and her understanding of vulnerability recalls Tennessee Williams without the mercy of his lyricism. There are no consolations here.

Susannah Clapp is away