A Time to Reap

Anna Wakulik, translated by Catherine Grosvenor
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Sinéad Matthews (Marysia) Credit: Robert Workman
Max Bennett (Piotr) Credit: Robert Workman
Owen Teale (Jan) and Sinéad Matthews (Marysia) Credit: Robert Workman

Marysia is a confused young lady torn between two men. First, though, we learn some history by rushing through the period from 4 to 25 for Sinéad Matthews's character at breakneck speed.

This is an era of fundamental change for her Polish homeland, developing from the last days of Communism in 1989 to deprived modern capitalism early in the current decade.

The first crisis of her life comes at 17, when an encounter with a kind priest throws her into the Warsaw surgery of Owen Teale as Jan, a handsome, separated family friend a generation older.

This doctor has forsaken God and, in profitable protest against the country's Catholic fundamentalism, set up as an abortionist.

He simultaneously helps Marysia out of her problem, employs the girl and seduces her, setting up eight years of connubial bliss.

The rather inevitable fly in the ointment is Jan's handsome son Piotr, played by Max Bennett. By the age of 25, he is nominally a law student in London.

For inexplicable reasons, Jan persuades his girlfriend to spend a couple of weeks in London with bisexual Peter (as he likes to be known).

To reveal the consequences would be a spoiler but much angst is shared by the trio for the last portion of the 90 minutes.

Its main subjects are failed religion (Max Jones's set largely comprising a church aisle complete with cross) and the desire to procreate or abort.

The plotting is very simple, leaving viewers plenty of time to observe Marysia's crises and the ways in which they expand to take in the father and son ensuring that all three will spend a considerable period unhappy and uncertain about how to resolve their problems. The question that we are possibly supposed to ask is whether this ordinary Pole might be a latter-day Madonna?

A Time to Reap may be a play directed at a constituency that fully understand the traumas that Poland's decision to ban abortion caused and the iron fist of its Catholic Church. As such, the play may speak most eloquently to those steeped in the culture and behaviours of Eastern Europe during the last couple of decades.

For the rest of the potential audience, despite director Caroline Steinbeis's attempts to inject some lighter moments, there may not be too much to get their teeth into.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?