Hope Theatre, London – until 22 July 2017
“Everything is slipping out of my control.”
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. Or do they? Among the many themes raised by Bj McNeill‘s is nature versus nurture, questioning if there’s an inescapable genetic legacy carried down by parents whether they’re a part of one’s life or not, looking at what impact their presence – or otherwise – has on one’s own emotional development. Are we doomed to repeat their mistakes or are we actually just responsible for our own fuck ups.
torn apart (dissolution) approaches this with a triptych of relationships in stark relief. A Polish student and an American soldier connect in 1980s West Germany; an Australian backpacker parties hard like it is 1999, realising that her boyfriend has fallen even harder despite her visa expiry date fast approaching; and also in London, in the present day, Holly’s love for Erica is challenged by long-reaching shadows from both of their pasts.
In the confines of Szymon Ruszczewski’s cage-like design, these three love stories play out exclusively in bedrooms, a space to get figuratively – and in some cases, literally – naked. A place for the intensity of burning passion, the privacy of deepest-held feelings, the sanctuary where it feels safe to reveal earth-shattering news. It’s a clever piece of design too – at first sight a device that traps our couples together, on closer examination you see the ‘bars’ are made of string, the actors periodically playing with them, even breaching them sometimes, suggesting that they are only really as trapped as they want to be.
And as these parallel narratives subtly wind ever closer, the beauty in McNeill’s characterisations comes in all their rough edges, hinting at an inherent truth that we’re all too easily inclined towards selfishness, even in the name of doing something good. We feel this strongest in the contemporary strand – Sarah Hastings’ Holly getting it all wrong in response to a crisis for Monty Leigh’s Erica, their potent but troubled connection finding increasing echoes in Nastazja Somers and Charlie Allen’s culture clash in the 80s.
Powerful work also comes from Elliot Rogers and Christina Baston with the perhaps most straight-forward but no less affecting through-line, pleasingly driven by the conflicted complexity of her emotion, underscoring the feminist credentials of the piece. McNeill’s direction also plays out in interesting ways – interludes of movement point toward psychological insight, and scenes overlap and overlay in the kind of way that makes you want to see the play again, to see if there were any clues being offered there in plain sight.