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Reactions to a Face

March 27, 2011


Taking two extracts from teenage novels which include incidents of a boy waking up to find a disfigured face, I was touched by the reaction of the students in the all girl’s school where I teach. 

Malorie Blackman - 'Boys Don't Cry'My year 9 Drama class listened in captivated silence to the extract from the recently published ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday 2010) when Adam, a gay teenager, asks for a mirror to study his face after a vicious homophobic attack.  They also listened spell-bound to the extract from ‘Face’ by Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloomsbury 1999) when Martin, recovering from a car accident which has left his face with horrific burns, insists on having a mirror against the wishes of the hospital staff.

I juxtaposed the two extracts to show that the same scene can have two entirely different treatments by an author – and to encourage them to consider how they would like to tackle a scene like this when dramatising it for the stage.

The main focus of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is Dante and his journey to becoming an effective single father, after being ‘dumped’ with his baby on the day of his A Level results.  Adam, his brother, has his face pummelled by Josh, a ‘friend’.  Adam’s reaction to his disfigured face is brief.  It is related from Dante’s point of view, who observes his brother’s long silence as he stares in the mirror.  Blackman is interested in Adam’s withdrawal from the world impacting on Dante, so we do not really get to be inside Adam’s head at this point.

'Face' by Benjamin ZephaniahIn ‘Face’, the whole procedure is painstakingly described and extremely moving.  It is related in the third person but Zephaniah takes us right inside Martin’s head as he examines his completely altered features.  There is almost an absurdity to the scene as the doctors, his therapist and his family all react badly to the news that Martin wants to look in a mirror.  The unwrapping of the mirror is related as a ritual.  Martin’s eventual study of his reflection lasts almost two pages.  It is a powerful section of the book and handled very sensitively by the author.

Inspired by these two stimulating extracts, the students created hospital scenes exploring real/fake friendships, loyalty, formalities, bravery and the use of an inner monologue.  Their appreciation of the power of silence on stage increased for many groups included a still image or a long hold as the patient looked in the mirror.   The stillness that one girl achieved when waiting for and eventually holding the mirror was very powerful.

One group made a paper mask to represent the disfigured face, which at first surprised me as it threatened to lean towards comedy, but they clearly showed that they appreciated the themes of ‘unmasking’ and cleverly made the point that it was the patient’s friend who was wearing a mask when reacting (or trying not to react) to the face.

The following lesson, as I was welcoming and settling my (at times) rather boisterous class, I heard a voice in my ear say ‘Sir, I’ve bought the books and I’ve started ‘Face’.  I’m going to read ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ next’.

‘That s great,’ I said, my attention diverted by a couple of students who had forgotten how to sit in a circle.  Often, when you are teaching, you run out of time to talk one-to-one to students about their reactions to a lesson, but this one was heart-felt and very encouraging and I can’t wait to hear her reaction to both novels.



One Comment leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 9:55 am

    There is a lot to think about in this post. I have read “Boys don’t Cry”, but not “Face”. Like your student, I now want to read it! It is encouraging to think that students have been inspired by a good teacher. And there will be so many times when you won’t ever know . .

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