Is there anything more deliciously dangerous than the engulfing, sticky sweetness of musty, milky motherlove? It's the unctious umbilical ambrosia that makes us all into trapped, tantrumming tarbabies. But it sure does taste like heaven on a rusk. The west end's latest fringe fosterling, That Face, is a spunky little warning about the parallel perils of extreme parental attachment and abandonment. Penned by embryonic prodigy Polly Stenham, it features consummate pro Lindsay Duncan as a slummy mummy drowning in one part Waitrose gin to two parts lustful, leonine love for her not-so-little soldier Henry (the extraordinary Matt Smith), a gorgeously earnest, arty, fragile nearly-man who is equally intoxicated with amniotic fluid but struggling to save them both.
The play is not the divine birth that most critics are claiming. With Henry's father the epitome of an emasculated, egocentric Englishman, and his younger sister Mia a quietly violent deliquent full of middle-aged ennui, the characters are all so damaged that the action is just one steady, unsurprising slope to destruction. But it is witty, waspy and yes, prematurely wise, and Jeremy Herrin's production boasts acting as good as anything I've seen this year.
As I left the theatre, swaddled in thought, Balzac tapped me on the shoulder, grubby-fingered and beady-eyed. 'A mother who is really a mother is never free', said he, and shuffled off into the night. Ah, Honore, lad. Freedom's overrated.
Come to mama, honey.