“Why does every festival have to end with a hangover and a mess and everything in ruins?”
The Royal Court’s impressive commitment to international playwriting turns its focus to Eastern Europe for the next month or so with readings of plays from Georgia and Ukraine supplementing the run of A Time to Reap, a new play from 22 year old Polish writer Anna Wakulik. First developed in 2011 on the Royal Court’s own International Residency, it is staged here in a translation by Catherine Grosvenor and directed by the always interesting Caroline Steinbeis.
Ricocheting between the Polish mountain village of Niepokalanów, Warsaw and London, A Time To Reap follows the story of a woman, Marysia, and her interactions with the handsome but restless Piotr and his gynaecologist father Jan in a Poland emerging from the shadow of Communism but where religious feeling has ensured a hardline stance on abortion. And as the three characters come to terms with the changing circumstances of their lives, the opportunities presented on the one hand and taken away with the other, their inextricably entwined lives play out in all their emotional highs and lows.
It is undoubtedly the quality of the acting that elevates A Time to Reap into something remarkable as the intimacy of the upstairs space leaves nowhere to hide and at its best, curates an emotional directness that is truly special. Steinbeis is unafraid of pushing her actors in sometimes unexpected directions and it certainly pays off here. Sinéad Matthews is heart-breaking as the young woman who isn’t quite equipped to deal with all that life throws at her, the societal expectations from her village upbringing aren’t actually too far away from what she would be happy with, but it is never quite as easy as that and Matthews brings beautiful layers of conflict as she struggles between the many conflicts of her life.
Max Bennett is also superb as Piotr, all about escape and experimentation as he seizes every opportunity he can with a reckless energy and little regard for consequence, his gorgeously rangy physical presence full of edgy exuberance. And as his father, Owen Teale has a calmer aura about him though he has his own drama to deal with to. Wakulik’s writing may yet develop further (I hesitate to use the word mature) but it is certainly possessed of an intriguing, thought-provoking quality. And in the clashes between rural and urban, religion and the secular, the old and the new, this play is a powerful reminder that ‘freedom’, however one defines it, often comes with a cost.