Current Issue #488

The Split

Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood in The Split
Lauren Alyce Photography
Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood in The Split

A romantic relationship runs its course in Sarah Hamilton’s intimate and occasionally existential breakup play The Split.

It’s confronting to watch romantic love deteriorate. To be present for those moments when love is withering — when cracks begin to form between words and caresses, and grief, boredom or fury spill through. It’s a familiar soundtrack, love’s end: first it’s a mild hum, easy to ignore, simpler to sidestep than acknowledge until, finally, it’s a roaring churn.

Our protagonists in The Split, Jules and Tom, are on this terrible journey, though the viewer is never sure what coordinates exactly they occupy. Laughter and camaraderie still exist between them, but her tone, in an instance, can become saddled with tension. His anxious, fledgling attempts to carry on conversation elicit your pity (Tom is the one who will be most hurt in this parting / perhaps you’re projecting). Playwright Sarah Hamilton and Director Charles Sanders capture this moment of love’s juncture well. The stage contains barely any distractions: a dozen props form a semi-circle, enclosing the lovers. This is the boundary of their fishing boat, which floats anchored somewhere in the Southern Ocean. Eventually, it will be undone: the props will gradually be rearranged, until the boundary is peeled away and nothing is left to hold the lovers together anymore. 

The simplicity of the stage design allows the audience to focus intently on the dialogue. The conversation that unfolds between Jules and Tom is natural and convincing, consisting of in-jokes, reeling silliness, and minor quarrels that signal a lurching dissatisfaction. Actors Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood inhabit their characters fluently, allowing subtle shifts in intonation and body language to reveal their simmering frustrations. The production lags when this naturalism is over-indulgent – for example, a karaoke stand-off is entertaining until, many lyrics later, it begins to spiral into tedium. Nonetheless, as a viewer, you feel instinctively that you’ve been here before, that you know their voyage intimately, and you want to keep watching.

A thread of uncertainty and existentialism runs through the piece: uncertainty in love, in the future, and, through references to climate catastrophe, in the survival of the planet. In this way, it hits a zeitgeist: as we witness the comforting embrace of love disappear, we’re reminded of everything else that is disappearing or melting too.

The Split was performed at Rumpus Theatre on 2 November

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