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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Tu i Teraz (Here and Now)
Hampstead Theatre Downstairs   Winter 2012-2013

More impressive for its ambition than its accomplishment, for undeniable earnestness than coherent focus or even storytelling, Nicola Werenowska's new drama feels like the first play of a talented but unformed writer. But Werenowska is not a beginner, so your departing sense may be of a playwright in need of a dramaturge or editor to help her focus her thinking and writing. 

The play appears to be about Marysia, Polish immigrant to Britain, seen first as a newcomer welcoming the six-year-old son she had to leave behind and the sister who brought him. We then abruptly jump a decade to find Marysia having worked her way up to a good job and a good home, with a thoroughly British son doing well in school and even an occasional friendly roll in the hay with her ex-husband. Then the sister returns.

And it is here that the play gets fuzzy. The sister declares herself shocked that her nephew has no Polish identity and doesn't even speak the language. She makes claims on Marysia based on the ties of family and national identity. Having served briefly as the boy's surrogate mother back then, she begins to fight her sister for his love and loyalty now. And she is also an annoying freeloader. 

The fact that we are never clear how we're supposed to feel about this secondary character, and indeed how much of our attention she should claim (and for which of her concerns), is emblematic of the play as a whole.

Is it about Polishness, family or striving? Are we to admire Marysia or feel that she has gone too far in breaking with her past? In fact, is the play about her, or is it really about her son, or her sister, or the complicated relationship of the sisters, or the mother-son relationship? 

The answer is probably All Of The Above And More, but while a play can successfully deal with several themes, an audience does need to know where to look, where the centre is, and who we're meant to like. 

Werenowska compounds the audience's difficulty by putting up unnecessary barriers to simple understanding. Large chunks of dialogue and some whole scenes are in untranslated Polish, and while the playwright might argue that we should be able to get the gist from the actors' inflections, that is not always the case. 

That ten-year jump takes a while to figure out, as do some of the relationships and much of the backstory. (A bit of physical miscasting that has an obvious adult playing a fifteen-year-old while looking older than his aunt doesn't help.) 

Ania Sowinski's Marysia shows a different face to each of the other characters, and we can't understand why the woman strong and determined at one moment is dependent at another and manipulated at another. 

Anna Elijasz can't make the sister's leeching dependency, sibling rivalry and nationalism fit together and so just plays whichever facet a given scene calls for with no connection to the others, and Mark Strepan's son and George Lasha's ex are even less convincing characterisations. 

Director Sam Potter must bear much of the responsibility, either for not guiding his actors to fuller realisation of their characters or for not guiding his playwright to one more rewrite that would remove some of their and the audience's difficulties. 

What does come across strongly is the playwright's serious belief that what this play is about is important, and that is no slight accomplishment. If only we could be more sure of what it is that she is so earnest about.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Tu I Tiraz - Hampstead Theatre 2012 

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