Review: Torn, Royal Court Theatre ‘Impressive, Moving’

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It is a brave play that deliberately confuses its audience for the first fifteen minutes or so. And it’s an impressive production that steers itself through this, cleverly scattering sufficient clues and curiosities to keep the audience engaged, towards a moving climax.

And Torn really is very impressive indeed.

Not that you’ll think that for an awful long time as you watch the play unfold, though.

At first, Torn is utterly confusing. A cacophony of fragmented conversations, shouting matches, and childhood games. Not even the characters or timeline is clear. Instead you are faced with eight adults sitting in a circle, group therapy-style, taking pot shots at each other, starting fights or embedded deep into recriminations.

Who are these people? Do they know each other? And where are we?

Torn

However, as you watch these characters spar and joust, alliances begin to emerge, the pattern of relationships become clear, and it becomes apparent you are watching members of an extended family.

And it seems that we are not situated in a single place in time but, rather, witnessing a family history retold through fragmented scenes from across their past.

And this family portrait is not a pretty picture.

It’s always a difficult balancing act as a critic to explain without giving too much away. Suffice to say that at the heart of this family drama is the free spirited Angel (the terrific Adelle Leonce), daughter, sister and cousin, a once bright, charismatic child, but now an angry, damaged adult seeking her reckoning for events from her past.

This highly fluid production sees scenes of confrontation between Angel and those closest to her interspersed with glimpses from the past. But rather than slowly, slowly, director Richard Twyman cleverly has these scenes played at a rapid pace, no let up between one and the next. They tumble into each other, and that confusion is given more space through a simple but effectively sparse production design from Ultz.

Torn

This play is cleverly constructed by Nathaniel Martello-White, who may be more familiar to audiences for his acting parts in productions such as Edward II and People, Places and Things, both at the National. The risk taken is immense, and the pay-off is stunning.

As these tumultuous secrets start to emerge from the shadows into the light, you are utterly wrapped up in the unfolding drama. And by the end, deeply unsatisfactory and incomplete as it should be, it feels all too desperately realistic.

I came away from the show weighing up what it takes to find closure. It’s such a glib phrase but what do you do when you desperately need to hear the words of regret, remorse and apology from those who were trusted with your care, but those words never come? How do you, how can you, move on?

Royal Court Theatre, to October 15, 2016

All photos by Helen Maybanks.
1. Adelle Leonce (Angel) and James Hillier (Steve)
2. James Hillier (Steve), Adelle Leonce (Angel), Jamael Westman (Brotha), Lorna Brown (Aunty L) and Osy Ikhile (Couzin)
3. Adelle Leonce (Angel) and Lorna Brown (Aunty L)

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