Actor and playwright Nathaniel Martello-White created quite a stir with his debut play Blackta that premiered at the Young Vic, targeting the use of token black actors in the entertainment industry. His latest work, premiering at the Royal Court Upstairs, is of a rather more serious nature and a bold experiment in form.
In a clever design by Ultz, the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs has been stripped bare, resembling a local community hall or a rehearsal room. Even the windows are left uncovered, allowing the light to stream in for a short while. Once the audience have taken their seats in the round, facing an empty stage, Angel (Adelle Leonce) forms a circle of chairs and provides a tea urn and polystyrene cups for her relatives. Once they have arrived, she locks the door, announcing that nobody is leaving until the truth is spoken.
Angel’s entire family is present as she launches her attack against all of them. It is hard to follow the play at first as eight characters interrupt and talk over each other, providing us with mere snippets of their conversation. The scenes are not in chronological order and in constant flow, the structure of the play is entirely non-linear, recalling the way our memory works – often flawed. There are trivial chats about pancakes and accusations of favouritism, spats that can be found in any family. But Angel has called the family together for a specific reason, to confront their actions or lack of actions when she was a child and needed help.
The play focuses on a fractured, mixed-race family in south London and although race is an issue, the crux of the matter is really the relationship between Angel and her tough and unfeeling mother, willing to sacrifice her daughter to follow her own agenda. Angel craved her mother’s love but they have remained so distanced that she did not even recognise her voice in a variation on the Blind Man’s Buff game, embracing Aunty L instead. Angel’s mother immediately calls her daughter’s accusations lies, pointing out that she had always been a fantasist.
Martello-White captures the family dynamics, particularly the inaction of Angel’s relatives to keep the peace, in this well written, lyrical play. But once the truth of the matter is revealed, there is little to keep the play going and it loses momentum. The subplot about Angel’s artistic cousin is distracting rather than illuminating.
Richard Twyman‘s production benefits from an outstanding cast, most of all Indra Ové as the formidable matriarch, and Adelle Leonce as her daughter Angel although there is little development in her character after her initial strong stand against her family. 3/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin
Torn will be shown until 15th October at the Royal Court Upstairs. For tickets and more information on the production, visit here…