Rob Auton’s show has a mercurial quality, slipping somewhere between spoken word show, stand up comedy and theatrical piece. There’s no narrative to speak of, and the show takes the form of a collection of thoughts – a kind of ambiguous spider diagram around the word “face” that dances into the audience.
He deliberately slips in a cheesy joke or two for good measure.
Auton himself stands on stage at the top of the show, impishly drawing cartoons of audience faces and handing them out in complete silence with a childlike earnestness in his face. Surrounded by a banner depicting symbolic faces and dressed in a colourful suit covered in eyes, teeth and letters, there's something of the children's TV presenter about Auton's presence.
The delightful thing is that by the end of the show, the colours and shapes hardly register in the audience’s eyes - instead, through a clever combination of verbal manipulation and audience interaction, we find ourselves focused solely on Auton's features. Bathed in a bright white light, Auton conducts a kind of call and response facial aerobics class that almost hypnotically draws focus to each of his features in turn: his eyes, cheeks, teeth and tongue. It also brings the audience together, drawing out giggles and bringing a feeling of unity to the room.
Auton is known as a poet as well as a comedian, and it’s evident in the show. Apart from one set piece describing a choir, the show is not overtly poetry, but the poetic influence is clear. The show is closely structured and meticulously worded, with just the right syllabic rhythm, highlighting jokes through the forefronting of words and phrases rather than overt punchlines. Apart from when he references the fact that he, somewhat out of left field, won Dave’s Funniest Joke of the Fringe last year with a one-liner. Here, he deliberately slips in a cheesy joke or two for good measure.
This is a show about faces - what it means to have a face, to be able to express yourself and to be human. The hour wanders from the absurd to the moving. It's hard to imagine a Hitler impression being touching and chilling and funny all at once, but Auton pulls it off in a draw-dropping segment in the middle of the show. Without a hint of false sentimentality or pretension, the show takes simplistic statements of fact and juxtaposes them with flights of fancy, whimsical stories featuring visitors from other worlds and talking mice intercut with comments on the limits of human cruelty, tied firmly to the ground through the linking device of the basic face. The serious undercurrent is cut by constantly drawing attention to the absurdity in the mundane details. I challenge anyone to leave The Face Show and not look at the world a little differently.