The intimate and inclusive in-the-round set up of the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs was a fitting choice to play host to Nathaniel Martello-White’s new play Torn, which serves to explore an interconnecting web of actions, choices and relationships. As the audience bears witness to the implosion of a family unit, a tight and talented ensemble cast subliminally draws us in to feel part of the devastation.
Martello-White’s play is effectively brought to life through Richard Twyman’s thought-provoking and creative direction, but the cleverness and emotional profundity of the play really lies in the text: stichomythia, interruptions and overlapping lines bring a jarring sense of reality, counterbalancing occasional more poetic figurations. Martello-White doesn’t restrain his wonderful sense of humour, however, with several unique and humorous lines proving to be winners with the audience.
The sometimes abstract notions of time and space – with few indicative changes in the stark lighting and set design – requires concentration to follow. This is not a play to daydream through by any means. The structure and style of the play is quite different to what audiences are used to, the play opening with a whirlwind of information from which audiences have to pick out subliminal hints – which is a little frustrating at first.
The few set pieces and props there are add interest to the performance: when the cast continually play what seems like a game of ‘musical chairs,’ within the support group-cum-meeting style setup, the audience can read deeper meanings from noticing who’s sitting next to who, who’s left the inner circle to get the tea, and who’s absent from the room entirely.
What really brings the resonance and impact to the piece, however, is the stellar cast. So rare it is to have all members of a 9-person ensemble give fantastic performances and work together as a collective unit. All actors give such powerful performances, gifting the audience the identity of their characters with the right amount of intensity that it is impossible to concentrate on just one or two outstanding performers. What’s more, it is brilliant to see such strong and talented women acting in badass main roles, for once.
All in all, Torn is an original whirlwind of family drama with a stellar cast. A must see.
Torn is playing The Royal Court until October 15.
Photo: Helen Maybanks