The white cage keeps them in. Or maybe it keeps us out. A combination of the physical and emotional; a safety blanket for the performers to hide behind, lest they open themselves up to their partners and feel vulnerable, ashamed and naked. Torn Apart takes place entirely within this whitewash structure, on a bed, between three seemingly unrelated couples that all gradually reveal a combination of links to marry them all together. BJ McNeill’s script is layered, full of depth and subtext that mandates a second viewing to slot all the pieces together.
And yet the play is not really about these interweaving connections. It’s about relationships – those between visitors in foreign countries; those between people that love too hard and too fast; those between adults who spend their lives in denial until the last possible minute. It’s also about sex, in all its sweaty, messy, imperfect glory. Because that’s life – it’s not picture perfect. It’s real and it hurts.
McNeill pulls no punches in the direction; if Holly (Sarah Hastings) gets angry with partner Erica (Monty Leigh), why shouldn’t she throw a glass at her? It’s not the mature thing to do, but grown-ups are irrational, emotional and reactionary. Especially when pissed off, trying so hard to fight an illness they cannot beat. And Holly (Hastings) is neurotic, attached to her phone in a desperate attempt to find any cure for Erica’s (Leigh) illness. “Processing the changes” – it sounds so robotic, so cold and lacking in feeling. But Holly can’t easily bring forth the words to express her love for Erica (Leigh) – Hastings purposefully trips over her dialogue with the confidence only a skilled actor can bring.
The beauty in this relationship is that being with a woman is new to Holly, yet all her true challenges and awkward ticks transcend gender. And, why shouldn’t they? But then, Erica’s secret illness is her own way of remaining detached; Leigh switches between lovingly engaged one minute and frustratingly absent the next. Her controlled emotion that never quite overpowers its barriers leaves the audience yearning for more with every sentence. This is a calculated anti-climax and it’s an honour to behold.
Take it back a decade to budding culinary star Elliott (Elliott Rogers) and Australian traveller Casey (Christina Baston). Marriage will solve the issue of immigration, but then it’s not for love. Elliott takes that hard – doesn’t he have the right to assume his spurned proposal implies that Casey doesn’t want to be with him? His abandonment issues rush to the fore here – Rogers bounds around the stage with energy to burn, one minute a lovesick puppy-dog and the next an immature romanticist. It’s beautifully exhausting to watch. But whereas Rogers opens up and by doing so breaks down, Baston remains secretive and guarded. Her performance here intentionally withholds her intent. She doesn’t have to reveal everything – she is allowed her personal space, after all.
Hit rewind once more on the organic, living video tape that these performers record their stories on. Back to 1980s Germany, to the Polish mother Alina (Nastazja Somers) and patriotic father, the American soldier (Charlie Allen). Here is the genesis in the whole twisted, romantic confluence. Sex versus politics – the age-old debate. “There is always something deeper” in a meeting such as this – and Alina (Somers) is nobody’s fool. But she never tells her soldier (Allen) that she is pregnant. Why not? Because he’s leaving, so why burden him with the responsibility? Of course, then he rapes her – maybe he was only ever in it for a good fuck. “There is making things something they’re not” – Allen’s dichotomy of dutiful American and lustful man paints him as the villain of this piece.
But it’s not about him, it never was. It was always about Alina (Somers), the mother with the strength to up and move so she can build a life for her child. Somers is in charge of this show – inflammatory, stoic and full of steely determination. This is her story and she will fuck if she wants, love if she wants and dismiss when she wants. The other characters end the production by breaking themselves down and revealing their vulnerabilities. Somers does not – she builds up a wall, shields herself from the pain and raises herself above such trivialities. The contrast is mind-blowing to watch.
Torn Apart is made of three contrasting relationships. But it’s also joined by their similarities – the desire to belong, the need to be loved, the hope of not losing that which you gain. Aren’t these the goals for every relationship regardless of gender, nationality or external influence? McNeill emphasises the crux of this with agonising beauty and encourages the actors to let loose in their own ways. This show has many strengths, but above all it is raw and uncompromising. It bears its soul, expects no apologies and makes for an exquisite production.
Writer/ Director: BJ McNeill
Producer: No Offence Theatre
Design: Szymon Ruszczewski; Sebastian Atterbury (sound/ light)
Cast: Nastazja Somers; Charlie Allen; Elliott Rogers; Christina Baston; Sarah Hastngs; Monty Leigh
Torn Apart (Dissolution) play The Hope Theatre until 22 July 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.