Nathaniel Martello-White has plenty to say and in his second offering as actor-turned-playwright he hits the road running with his new play, ’Torn’. Centred around the Brooks family and the varied skeletons in their closets, the play explores the theme of accusation within a framework of interracial family hierarchies, the effect of poverty and the individual history of a family. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do”, remarked the poet, Philip Larkin.
Entering the Royal Court’s attic space the set, stripped back by designer Utlz, appears stark and impersonal in what could be a village hall or some other public space. The bare wall uncovers the usually hidden windows that look down to Sloane Square and the audience take their places upon plastic stackable chairs arranged in a large circle around a young woman. No lights go up on the scene and the play opens with family members entering through the same door as the spectators which adds to the uncanny feeling that we are here as witness to an impending intervention. “It happened”, opens the dynamically written dialogue by Angel, the young woman brilliantly played by Adelle Leonce, who locks the door to the outside world so that her truth can be exorcised and points the blame at the feet of her step-father, Steve. Laying out a smaller circle of chairs, the family gather before the storm. And when Martello-White’s storm hits, it lets forth a barrage of conversations, flashbacks and overlapping dialogue that discombobulates until the layered, non-linear narrative becomes familiar and the sorry tale can be teased out and untangled memory by memory.
Refusals and admissions of guilt ricochet off the bare walls, sending echoes of anger and revelation between the family who are all too deeply involved in their own struggles to truly be able to cope with the emotional upheaval that now faces each of them. The nine-strong cast all perform with real depth of feeling. Emotion spills from the eyes of the women, whose own personal demons stem from the Irish grandmother we see in flashbacks, illuminating the embedded cause and effect nature of being. The tone sparks comparisons to ‘Dogme 95’ co-creator, Thomas Vinterberg, whose films exploring the consequences of betrayal and abuse map the same problems of who to believe and who to question – the accuser rather than themselves? This leaves a knot in the stomach and Martello-White offers little in the way of catharsis. Although the twisting and turning plot centres around the perpetration of abuse within a family, at its epicentre this play portrays the difficulties mixed-race families face – especially when coupled with the desperation that poverty brings. A play that questions rather than comforts, ‘Torn’ is worth watching for its depictions of history repeating itself.
‘Torn’ plays until the 15th October at The Royal Court Theatre where tickets start at £10. Box office: 020-7565-5000.