Torn James Hillier (Steve), Adelle Leonce (Angel), Jamael Westman (Brotha), Lorna Brown (Aunty L) and Osy Ikhile (Couzin) (c) Helen Maybanks
‘Torn’ is about the family ties that bind, choke, or unravel all around us; it’s about the secrets and lies that make each family both unique, and achingly familiar.
The audience arrives to see a young lady, already sitting in the brightly lit, in-the-round performance space. Clearly one of the characters, she sits, fidgeting nervously as she waits for the appointed time. Twice, we see her get up to refill her polystyrene cup from the tea- trolley in the corner; apart from a stack of chairs, this appears to be the only prop.
Upon closer inspection, four huge lighting poles frame each corner of the stage – like floodlights overlooking a football field.
And then, the lights go up, as if to signify the start of the game, and we’re off… slowly, at first.
As the young lady gets up to rearrange the chairs, placing them neatly as if for an AA meeting (or an intervention), she is watched by a young man, silently observing her from the doorway. Then six other cast members enter, sit in their seats, and are immediately ripped into by the young lady.
As she locks the door/entrance, she lets the other characters know that ‘no-one’s leaving until we get to the truth’ – and that includes the audience.
What follows is a peek through the window of a functioning dysfunctional family. The word ‘extended’ is apt, as it refers to a (family) unit stretched almost to breaking point, as well as to the length of their respective grievances.
I could describe, in more detail, some of the plot specifics, but that would be to diminish the ambitions of the writer (Nathaniel Martello-White).
This is about the family ties that bind, choke, or unravel all around us; it’s about the secrets and lies that make each family both unique, and achingly familiar.
Specific instances of familial jealousy, sibling rivalry, shame, guilt, one-upmanship, and schadenfreude are linked to the wider issues of class-ascension, colour-prejudice… and the double-edged sword of having ‘good hair’.
The sins of the father and mother – as well as the brother, grandmother, aunty, cousin, etc. – are revisited here, as the scenes flit back and forth between various characters, and in and out of lineal time.
Special mention must go to Adelle Leonce, who gives a wonderfully sustained and nuanced performance as the young girl (‘Angel’); essaying – as she does –righteous anger, child-like insecurity, mumbling incoherence, and back again – sometimes within moments.
Other standouts include Indra Ové (‘1st twin’/mother), and Osy Ikhile (‘Couzin’), but the mighty cast is so uniformly good, it seems a shame to single anyone out.
Richard Twyman’s direction is also top-notch; he allows the cast to run with their characters, while holding each rein with just enough tension.
Sometimes the overlapping dialogue makes it a challenge to capture every word, but the quality of the delivery – and the purity of the intention(s) – make it work.
The mighty cast is so uniformly good; it seems a shame to single anyone out.
The design – by Ultz – and Charles Balfour’s lighting add greatly to the work. The spectacle of seeing – as well as hearing - such private intimacies brought into the light and out into the open, work well with the narrative and performances.
This is a play for those who like their family drama a little messy, and a little jarring, - and real. These are the tales that get hidden, or go missing. These are the stories that get driven underground – that are lost, and that make people lose themselves and those closest to them. This play is a reminder that each individual – once cast adrift – may be lost forever, and that whole generations can, and do, get lost… for want of a (better) word.
This play reminds us to keep telling our truth – no matter how painful – and to keep asking questions, and giving answers (‘it starts in the home’).
This is a play that should be seen.
Info: Torn is at the Royal Court Theatre until 15 Oct 2016 | Book tickets