Torn at the Royal Court Theatre
Staged with an almost unbearable intimacy, Torn sees Nathaniel Martello-White fully test Tolstoy’s assertion that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, tracing the erosion of a unit shaken not only by the near unspeakable claims of a young girl, but the effects of entrenched racial and class-based tension.
With the action presented in the circular nudity of an AA meeting, and imbued with the chaotic tone of a family get together, the audience is effectively a silent participant in an ugly group therapy session. Lurking at the edges of a room that could be any rentable hall in the country this not only turns each attendee into a voyeur, but a juror as well. From this position of implication, the audience becomes witness to the various crimes this family have inflicted upon each other, the playwright folding past, present and future together to explore the ways in which destructive patterns can take hold and abuses can be papered over.
Just as Torn’s temporal structure is constantly shifting, so too is its language always in flux. Martello-White weds modern vernacular with a kind of pseudo-Greek lyricism and a Caryl Churchill-esque fondness for elliptical sentences, which lends his narrative an urgent yet classically tragic edge. And in providing each character with either a familial title (like 1st Twin or Brotha) or a purposefully bland name (eg Steve or Brian) the playwright creates a set of generic signifiers among the specificities of a mixed-race family. Only Angel, portrayed with remarkable fierceness by Adelle Leonce, has a name of any note, positioning her firmly, and symbolically, as the central figure in the swirl of unhappiness.
In a way, Torn is reminiscent of Leo Butler’s Boy from earlier this year. Both are admittedly very different; the former has a stripped-back brutality that stands in contrast to the melancholic wandering of the latter’s technically impressive production at the Almeida. Yet each drama captures the various ways in which pain filters through generation to generation, and how class, and in Torn’s case race, can play an insidious role in silencing the individual.
Torn is at the Royal Court Theatre from 7th September until 15th October 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Torn here: