Nathaniel Martello-White's Torn looks at a family in denial about the abuse meted out to a young girl, Angel and the damage to her.
In a stripped back space that could be a church hall, Angel (Adelle Leonce) is angrily arranging the chairs in a circle. She has called a family meeting to get answers as to why, firstly, they ignored her stepfather abusing her, and secondly, why they made her recant the accusation. Her search for acknowledgment of her truth is painful and raw. The Brooks are a complicated mixed race family dominated by the unseen matriarch Nanny whom we hear from when she is voiced by other members of the family.
The family ties are complex and take some unravelling. Only three of the characters have names, Steve the stepfather (James Hillier), Brian, Angel’s birth father (Roger Griffiths) now separated from her mother, and Angel herself. The other characters inhabit relationship titles and are 1st Twin and 2nd Twin, Brotha, Couzin and two Aunties. The family tree puzzled me for some time but the confusion adds to the fluidity of the roles and changes of time as the dialogue switches back to an earlier time with no obvious clues.
In this mire of mixed race families is the prejudice against those of darker skins as explained by the despicable Steve as he describes “field slaves” as being darker and “house slaves” as often fathered by the slave owner and light skinned. After all these years, the ultimate light skinned, white man is playing the racial supremacy game. It seems that Angel’s mother has given up her dark children Angel and Brotha (Jamael Westman) to be cared for by Aunty L (Lorna Brown) and gone on to have two light skinned children, Sebastian and Mary whom we do not see, just hear about their achievements. Aunty J (Kirsty Bushell) recalls the terrible racism directed against her three mixed race children.
As family rivalries are exposed, Angel finds herself alone, vilified as a troublemaker. It emerges that her mother has exchanged her duty as a mother to her two eldest children in return for an affluent lifestyle with the odious Steve, which she then tries to persuade others to her way of thinking by reminding them of their indebtedness to her.
They play a game when one of a pair, blindfolded, has to find the other by only the animal noise they have agreed upon. Angel tries to find her mother by her vulture noise when all the others are imitating the sound. The effect is a cacophony of confusion.
Richard Twyman’s direction wasn’t perfect and there were times when, because of blocking, one couldn’t see the face of either speaker. The audience sit round the circle of actors, apart from a few at a higher level.
Angel has been betrayed twice and now only her Couzin (Osy Ikhile) can get the truth from Angel’s mother. The catharsis of Adelle Leonce’s performance as Angel will haunt me for a long time as she brings to life the searing hurt of Nat Martello-White’s terrific writing.
Written by Nathaniel Martello White
Directed by Adam Penford
Director: Adam Penford
Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Movement: Patricia Okenwa
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Closed at the Royal Court on 15th October 2016
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
The Royal Court
London SW1W 8AS
Tube: Sloane Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Royal Court
on 15th September 2016