Fitting perfectly into the aim and vision of manipulate festival at the Traverse is Torn, a beautiful and intimate piece exploring loss and memory, brought to the stage by Faux Theatre Company.
Faux Theatre Company are an Edinburgh based company, focusing their work on puppetry and visual theatre, inspired by human connection. ‘Torn’ is the company’s artistic director’s first work for adult audiences. Created and performed by Franciscan Morton, and accompanied by foley artist Barney Strachan, it is clear where the piece’s influence lies – Morton’s love of visual narrative, and her experience as a hospital Play Specialist and as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy psychotherapist. The piece comes off the back of a very successful run of a children’s production ‘Celeste’s Circus’, and after a three year development process, Morton has now toured ‘Torn’ nationally and internationally.
It is very striking. The whole piece is set in a lonely, monochrome flat, covered in piles of crumpled, torn and scrunched up pieces of paper. The lighting is harsh, but three-dimensional, drawing the eye into the scene and the woman’s world. This immersive nature is added to by Strachan, creating live sound-effects on stage. It is fascinating and entertaining to see the soundscape being created while we watch the events unfold on stage. Somehow, seeing this happen made the piece more personal to the viewer, and rather than a distraction, making the experience more enriching.
All this ties perfectly into the theme of ‘Torn’. The piece follows the evening of one, un-named woman, and her experience of coping with the loss of someone significant in her life. We are initially unsure of the relationship this person of the past had with the woman, but slowly we find out more and more of the time they spent together, and the importance of that relationship to her. By using visual symbolism and sound, most notably a pair of jeans and the soundscape of the seaside, Morton builds up a deep and believable narrative within the room of the flat.
Perhaps what is most distinct about ‘Torn’ is how an audience member can interpret the story to be personal to them. Everyone has dealt with loss and grief, and Morton and Faux Theatre beautifully construct not just a performance piece, but also an experience. Personal events and feelings are conjured up alongside Morton’s portrayal, meaning that we ‘feel’ along with her. By exploring memory on stage for us, ‘Torn’ forces us to recall our own past and losses, creating not just a watchable piece, but also something cathartic and therapeutic. Morton and the team must be applauded for the dexterity with which they pull this off. Rather than pretentious and heavy-handed, the exploration of human emotion through ‘Torn’ is sensitive, real, and evocative.
However, the complexity of both the piece and its methods do not go unnoticed. There are times throughout the performance where the execution is not as slick as it should be. While this occasional disjointedness does not fundamentally take away from the performance, it does sometimes leave one feeling distracted for a moment by a missed sound effect or a slip out of character. The loneliness of the woman also leaves us longing for a more developed relationship between her and the foley artist. As we become more emotionally invested into the character, and the novelty of the presence of Strachan wears off, we begin to wish for a human connection between the two, which never occurs. Obviously, the point of the foley artist is to add to the piece, rather than as a character in the performance. Strachan is incredibly talented and his work is effective and humorous. That being said, his understated presence leaves us wanting more from his performance, and wondering whether his work adds to the overall theme and message of the piece.
Overall, ‘Torn’ is a beautiful and striking piece, its intimacy and intensity forcing us to examine the less positive side of human emotion. A lot of thought has been put into it by the whole team, from the simple but effective lighting design and striking set design, to the sensitive, humorous and skillful performances. If you have the chance to see ‘Torn’, or other works by Faux Theatre Company, I highly recommend it, for their gripping and compelling work.