Torn Apart is a play about relationships and endings, idealism contrasted with the hard knocks of life. We are invited to stand at the window and observe how each of three couples interacts. We see them at home, unaffected by the outside world – at least at first.
In a nice touch, the audience arrives to find the actors already on stage. Polish Alina and an unnamed soldier kick off the narrative. Alina is witty and playful, coyly disguising feelings she has for her partner: “It’s not you I miss, it’s the sex.” She may regret this throw-away line later. Too soon the carefree days are gone, and the tone changes; goodbyes are always difficult and words fail.
In the second of the relationships, Elliott’s yearning to belong comes across strongly. He was fostered as a child and is alone in the world. His partner Casey retains her idealism and wants to marry for love, not pragmatically or to solve a problem. The plot strand focused around Elliott’s identity works well.
But in my view, it’s the characterisation of the last, lesbian couple which is strongest. Holly is self-absorbed initially, unaware of Erica’s feelings – but the couple talk, unpacking and overcoming insecurities that are different for each of them. When Erica gets sick, Holly desperately tries to keep control through organisation. But Erica just wants the normal rhythm of life to continue for as long as possible. She doesn’t have a bucket list.
So there is much to praise about BJ McNeill’s script, but I also have one big concern. To my mind, the nudity and all but the last sex scene are unnecessarily explicit distractions, which diminish rather than enhance the drama. It’s the dialogue and interaction between the characters that draws us into the play and keeps our attention.
For me, it is the last-but-one scene – and the different perceptions of the final meeting between Alina and the soldier – which steals the show. Arresting and unexpected, it creates two realities from the same event; what actually happened, and the fairy-tale which at least one of them wanted.