The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Spring 2013
Anna Wakulik's drama tells the engrossing story of three individuals over two decades while at the same time reflecting without strain the experience of a country and a culture.
It loses its way in the last half-hour, slipping into the mode of a TV soap opera trying too hard to be shocking, but until then both its personal drama and its larger resonances will hold you and make you think.
In Wakulik's native Poland a boy and girl grow up as friends, though she is from a deeply religious small-town family and he is the son of an atheist Warsaw gynaecologist who specialises in what are first legal and later illegal (but always lucrative) abortions.
The boy goes off to university in London and the girl becomes pregnant, avails herself of his father's services and becomes the older man's lover. And then the boy comes back.
One of the perhaps unforeseen results of the fall of Communism was the bounce-back resurgence of Poland's strong Catholic tradition, so that the country after 1989 came to resemble Italy or Ireland in earlier years, with abortion legally banned and religious doctrine and imagery part of everyday life and thought (Children learned a patriotic catechism alongside their religious one).
So the experience of each of the three characters is coloured throughout by both Polishness and Catholicism, either through adherence to or rebellion against, and much of the power of Wakulik's play comes from the ease with which she brings these larger forces, and their effect on ordinary life, into focus.
Written in Polish, the play has been translated smoothly by Catherine Grosvenor into an English that captures the naturalness of ordinary speech, the subtle differences between city and village characters and the believable moments when the characters, touched by either religious or emotional inspiration, are self-consciously poetic.
As the girl, Sinéad Matthews has the widest range of fully-expressed emotions, along with the burden of much of the narration, and delivers a performance of unflagging and frequently emotionally raw energy.
Father (Owen Teale) and son (Max Bennett) are both by nature more reserved characters, leading the actors to more subtle playing, hinting at feelings and conflicts that only come out fully in a couple of shared drinking scenes.
Caroline Steinbois directs with a grace and clarity that bring out all the play's resonances without losing focus on the human story, her control only wavering as the text itself drifts into cliché near the end.