Max Bennett scares me. His searing blue eyes. His predatory prowl. I would not want to be confronted by his attitude-soaked Polish Piotr.
This is less the case at the beginning of Anna Wakulik’s 90-minute play A Time To Reap, when we meet Piotr as a woolly hatted four-year-old, but how quickly time changes him and the four-year-old girl he meets, Sinéad Matthews’ Marysia.
Within minutes the carefree toddlers have disappeared to be replaced by a young man eager to escape the changing land of his father and, like a cross-continent Dick Whittington, start a new life in the bright lights and opportunities of London, and a young woman whose life is twice twisted by unwanted pregnancies. In a country tied to Catholicism where abortion is illegal, Marysia faces not just a moral quandary, but a legal one. It helps, then, that Piotr’s father is a gynaecologist, yet that brings its own twist of fate.
Polish writer Wakulik, who was part of the Royal Court’s International Residency for Emerging Playwrights in 2011, has concocted a drama of three floundering characters struggling in and around modern Poland.
While Owen Teale’s Jan, a doctor who appears to have been hewn from granite, denies God but revels in the extra work that comes his way with the government’s Catholic ruling; he struggles as his making also provides his ruin. Bennett’s brash Piotr, who appears a little like a walking, talking moral vacuum, swiftly realises that the grass isn’t always greener. But it is Matthews’ likeable Marysia who suffers the most, her life never really feeling her own as she desperately, hopefully grasps for someone or something to believe in.
Wakulik’s text, translated by Catherine Grosvenor, finds the characters both directly addressing the audience, telling us about their lives and feelings, and talking, arguing and playing Taboo with each other. As ever, the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs has been transformed, with Max Jones creating a church-like vault in which the decade-leaping story unfolds. Presumably Jones is also behind one of the most unwittingly disturbing props I’ve seen in a theatre; a celebratory cake featuring a large, realistic icing baby. Like the Polish anti-abortion posters described in the play, it’s a wholly disturbing image fit for an unsettling play.