Review: Torn

By John Nathan, July 4, 2008

Arcola Theatre, London E8

This production has been overshadowed by the murder last weekend in North London of Ben Kinsella, whose sister, Brooke, is in the cast.

It is the kind of brutal, inner-city event that this little powerhouse of a theatre — a short walk from Dalston Station, past Turkish coffee houses and Kurdish restaurants — has been known to examine in its plays. Femi Oguns’ offering, though, is more a tale about London love than violence — a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, only without the knife crime.

In his own play, Oguns takes on the role of David, whose family want him to be a doctor and marry a nice Nigerian girl — and certainly not Natasha (Kelle Bryan), the British Caribbean girl with whom he is having a relationship.

The lovers are caught in the middle between two bigoted attitudes. Natasha’s father thinks Nigerians are all corrupt and that Africans are snobs. David’s older sister thinks that British Caribbeans are all drug dealers.

In many ways, this is a play that makes redundant the term Afro-Caribbean. The expression links those with a West Indian background with their African heritage. But for Natasha’s father Malcolm (Wil Johnson), it is a relationship informed by the collective memory of black Africans selling his ancestors to white slave traders. “Because of your people, we can never be liberated,” he says. For a while, this black-on-black culture clash is fascinatingly expressed. And wider racial politics are explored with Natasha’s white friend Kirsty (played by Clare-Louise Cordwell standing in for Brooke Kinsella) who only fancies black men, and Natasha’s black friend Dominique (Michelle Asante) who would never date an African.

But once expressed, these ideas fail to move the plot forward and the play stalls. Still, Raz Shaw’s energetic production makes full use of Hanna Clark’s excellent in-the-round design, and although some of the territory has been explored by playwrights such as Kwei Armagh, Oguns is revealed as an acting and writing talent to watch. 

(Tel:  020 7503 1646)

Last updated: 12:44pm, July 7 2008