Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
Two years ago, Torn Apart (Dissolution) first made its appearence at Theatre N16. Produced by Polish-Australian theatre company No Offence, Torn Apart (Dissolution) interweaves storylines from three time periods. Within each narrative, a couple wrangles with external circumstances that threatens to end their respective relationships. Each of the storylines are complete in their own right, though through the deftness of writer-director BJ McNeil, it is possible to see themes echoed and compounded in each of the threads.
Set furthest in the past, in a very different Europe, Alina (Nastazja Somers) a Polish student and an American soldier (Charlie Allen) have been seeing each other while he’s stationed in Bremen, West Germany. For the duration of their time together, they are as happy as can be. The US troops, however, are recalled back home. It is then the moment of truth: was their time together just a physical affair, or does their relationship have ‘legs’ – with each ready to make sacrifices to stay together? Whatever happens next will have long-term consequences…
Mirroring this storyline to some degree, Casey (Christina Baston) and Elliott (Elliott Rogers) live together in London at the cusp of the millennium. As an Australian on a two-year visa, the amount of time Casey can stay in the UK is drawing to an end. Understandably unhappy about this, Elliott – whose identity and ‘nationality’ in his early life was determined by ‘red tape’ – wants to nip all the legal complications in the bud, and do whatever it takes to stay together. But will Casey see things his way?
Also set in London, but in the present day, Holly (Sarah Hastings) has left her ‘perfect life’ with husband, child and west London address to live with Erica (Monty Leigh). But as Holly evaluates how leaving her husband will affect her relationship with her daughter, Erica – whose own mother affects her life even now – has health issues which she downplays…
So what exactly has changed since the play’s inception? The most obvious changes have been the recasting for half of the roles: the Soldier, Holly and Casey. Allen’s Soldier is very much a ‘man of the world’, and his confidence and life experience is very much a factor in why Alina’s drawn to him. From a dramatic point of view, what becomes uncomfortable for them is ‘true’ intimacy – sharing details of their respective lives outside the bedroom and the possibility they may be something more… Hastings’ Holly has a natural, easygoing chemistry with Erica. And while there’s a side to Holly that appears fragile, it belies the fire within that surfaces when she allows her feelings to surface, rather than showing decorum. Baston’s Casey is very much her own woman and while she’s ‘a free spirit’, she has her principles and adamant about being together for the right reasons, rather than having her hand forced.
In terms of the cast as a whole, there is a greater commitment to truthfulness in their physicality and non-verbal communication. Spending years together on-and-off on the same play has built a level of trust between them that’s nigh impossible to replicate and it shows in the way they’ve pushed the envelope of their respective performances.
The familiar ‘cage’ set that’s appreared in previous runs has been adjusted to the space of the Hope Theatre. While it is now narrower in size, in conveys a greater sense of the metaphorical confinement that the characters face themseves with. The cage’s malleability is also used to greater effect this time around, as the cast on a semi-regular basis protrude through the ‘bars’ within touching distance of the audience – their circumstances a hairline’s distance from our own.
One of the unforeseen consequences in performing this play in 2017 is how much the world has changed in two years. Living in ‘Brexit Britain’, the emphasis on visas and ‘right to stay’ has taken on a whole other level of intrusiveness, and one wonders how many couples will be affected or eventually be kept apart by this arbitary system. While not exclusively dealing with this, Torn Apart‘s relevance in terms of world events, sexual politics and issues of identity continues to grow.
© Michael Davis 2017
Torn Apart (Dissolution) runs at the Hope Theatre, London until 22nd July 2017.