I climb the steps of the Hope Theatre as I read the blurb for Torn Apart. It says the play ‘puts women centre stage and deals with issues such as feminism, immigration, male repression, fate, homosexuality, but above all it explores the most painful aspects of human conditioning’. That is, for one, quite a lot of themes to cover in a 90 minute play. But more importantly, even though it is marketed as a female centred play, it is not what you first notice as an audience member.
We are presented with three different love stories set in three different bedrooms at three different times. Alina (Nastazja Somers) is a Polish woman who meets an American soldier (Charlie Allen) in Germany and they begin an affair. Casey (Christina Baston) is an Australian living in London enjoying her loving relationship with Elliott (Elliott Rogers), but her visa is soon expiring. Holly (Sarah Hastings) leaves her husband to follow her heart and be with the woman she loves, Erica (Monty Leigh). The plots intertwine and are staged on the same bed on a small stage in the centre, surrounded by white threads, forming an effective (if not a tad too literal) cage. The space therefore has the ability to be both intimate and claustrophobic, which frames the narratives with success; all three couples share their most intimate moments with us. And not merely intimate in the sense of nudity, of which there is plenty (indeed the play opens with a rather heated sex scene) but emotional vulnerability.
Writer and director Bj McNeill filled this play with every tragedy possible: we get adultery, crack addiction, an expiring visa, a rape scene and even a terminal disease. Instead of focusing on one of them and really grounding it with detail and depth, the disasters soon start to battle each other for the audience’s attention, the performers become increasingly shouty, and each scene aims to become more tragic than the last. It sadly makes the piece feel cliched, a dramaturgical overkill. The play also features physical, interpretive dance sequences to songs from Sia and RHCP amongst others. Under the red and blue lights these sequences edge towards melodrama and slow down the production rather than aiding it. It is a shame, because the cast has undeniable chemistry and energy with fine-tuned comic timing, particularly Baston and Rogers who deliver each scene with freshness and harmony.
Torn Apart is a strong play in concept with a devoted cast and considered format, and with a few tweaks to the script a more balanced delivery could be achieved.
Torn Apart (dissolution) is playing at the Hope Theatre until July 22.
Photo: Scott Rylander