Love is one of the best things in the world, or the worst. It feels like floating, butterflies, warmth and fuzziness, or being trapped in a cage with no way out. Everyone wants to love and be loved, but when it backfires, the effects are devastating. For life, sometimes. Torn Apart (Dissolution) presents three interconnected relationships across generations and international borders. These people are broken at worst or dysfunctional at best, which makes for some good dramatic tension but the playwright BJ McNeill’s structure, style and storyline deteriorates towards the end. Some lovely set-piece scenes, a few good performances and a powerful set design help offset these issues, but new company No Offence Theatre need to continue developing their ideas in order to better showcase them.
The international company founded by two actors, Australian Hannah Kerin and Polish Natazja Somers is admirably diverse, and the play suits their strengths well. Complimented by Simon Donohue and Elliott Rogers, they form two couples that are related but never met. Rogers, at only twenty years old, possesses a presence and rich emotional range rare in a performer so young. He is excellent contrast to his carefree girlfriend Casey (Kerin) and the two fill the intimate Theatre N16 wonderfully. Somers and Donohue as Alina and an unnamed soldier have a more mature, world-weary energy that add another layer of contrast. Less developed are scenes with lesbian couple Holly (Katherine Eskenazi) and Erica (Monty Leigh), but they create a rare and commendable female-strong cast. The action flips between these three couples’ stories, revealing their connection at a good pace.
Szymon Ruszczewski’s set is simple but evocative. A bed with white linens sits in the middle of the stage, inside a white cube with threads creating walls the audience can see through – or thin bars, trapping the unhappy couples inside a generic, characterless bedroom. Ruszczewski has also designed the lighting, which is the most successful plot I’ve seen in this low-ceilinged theatre with several nooks and crannies that tend to cast stark shadows.
McNeill also directs. There’s a good use of diagonal lines so all sides can see, but some odd choices as well. Gratuitous female toplessness doesn’t add anything to the story. If the point is that the audience is witnessing private, intimate moments, why isn’t everyone naked when they’re having sex? He also doesn’t include a curtain call; this is incongruent with the naturalistic style of the piece that has a literal fourth wall. Several of the characters toy with the strings that make up the set walls, which makes their meaning jarringly ambiguous – are they walls, or are they bars, or are they just strings? Structurally, the last couple of scenes change style, and neither develops the plot. Ending with the last soldier/Alina scene would be abrupt, but a reinforcement of the horror that lurks in some relationships.
There is definite potential in this new company and their creatives, as well as scope to continue developing and refining their work. Their goal to create truly international work not limited by where their artists are from is a wonderful one that will garner them more attention with the overall increase in quality of their work.
The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PayPal.