As time runs out on the tenure of outgoing Royal Court boss Dominic Cooke, it looks like his apparent plan to create a ‘Midwich Cuckoos’-style master race of young female playwright prodigies may end up stalled in the single figures.
Nonetheless, a few scant months before his reign is over, he can boast that his diabolical scheme has gone international, as young Polish playwright Anna Wakulik’s blackly comic family drama ‘A Time to Reap’ directly follows comic family dramas by young British playwrights Polly Stenham and EV Crowe into the Court’s Upstairs theatre.
That’s certainly not bad company to keep. But the biggest problem with ‘A Time to Reap’ is that what could have felt really distinctive has been too far assimilated into the typical Upstairs aesthetic, the big acting, pop culture-heavy translation and sleek, stylised direction all seemingly doing their best to detract from the message at the play’s core.
A witty, intense pressure-cooker drama, the play – which lithely bounds between 1989 and 2010 – focuses on the fraught love triangle between Sinéad Matthews’s devoutly Catholic good-time girl Marysia, her much older lover, an atheist gynecologist who has made his fortune performing illegal abortions (Owen Teale) – and his irresponsible hedonist son Piotr (Max Bennett).
All three actors give it their considerable all and Caroline Steinbeis’s production blasts by with hip, feverish gusto. Still, it’s an oddly frictionless affair, with little sense of time or place, or even of being set in Poland.
The message, I think, is that resurgent Catholicism has screwed up post-Communist Poland something rotten; the three characters would seem to roughly correspond to a dissolute version of the holy trinity, and Max Jones’s splendid church nave set clearly foregrounds religion as a theme. But in reality, the play’s politics feel lost amidst the bells, whistles and emotions of a perfectly enjoyable but pretty bog-standard Royal Court Upstairs drama. Andrzej Lukowski