Blackta, Martello-White focused a lot on gradations of skin tone, and if there's anything even remotely autobiographical about Torn it explains a lot about where this interest comes from.
Because in this mixed-race family there's a not-even-secret hierarchy according to
skin colour, 1st Twin palming off her darker-skinned daughter Angel on her sister
Aunty L (Lorna Brown) as often as possible, and she's even been known to pretend her
older black children don't exist, favouring the white children she went on to have
Ultz's design for Richard Twyman's production strips back the Royal Court Upstairs
to make it look like the sort of community space where an AA meeting might be held,
or in this case an extreme kind of family therapy. The audience form an outer circle
and the cast an inner one, and at the play's opening Leonce arranges the chairs
herself, taking special care that each faces another directly - this is going to be
a confrontation whether her family like it or not.
The story plays out in a blur of overlapping scenes and flashbacks, the sort of
structure where it's initially difficult to make out quite who the characters are or
what's going on, but which makes it more satisfying when the story starts to fall
into place. Aunty J (Kirsty Bushell) is largely there to do impressions of the
women's late mother, whose attitudes informed the family's current dysfunction,
while 2nd Twin (Franc Ashman - everyone's changing their stage name this year, it'll
play havoc with the labeling on the blog) stands firmly behind her twin despite her
2nd Twin's son Couzin (Osy Ikhile) works in the arts, something which means he comes
in for a certain amount of homophobic assumptions from Brotha (Jamael Westman.) It's
perhaps meant as another aspect of the tension between what's expected of a black
family but in a short play it feels like it's overloading it with ideas a bit -
Torn is best when it's anchored with the excellent Leonce as Angel, whose
alienation from the rest of the family keeps us guessing for quite a lot of the play
as to whether she's telling the truth. It's an intense ninety minutes covering a
number of disturbing possibilities, although its most chilling element may be 1st
Twin's utter lack of emotion for her daughter.
Torn by Nathaniel Martello-White is booking until the 15th of October at the Royal
Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.
Air conditioning status: The stairway where you queue to get in is hot but the
theatre itself is really comfortable.
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks.