For the first few moments you think this is a play entirely in Polish, as Anna (Anna Elijasz) chatters away to her taciturn sister, Marysia (Ania Sowinski), over the laundry basket, but gradually you discern the fact that Marysia is giving brief responses in English, and then repeatedly asks Anna to speak only in English. They are in England now, and Marysia is escaping her past with her teenage son, Kuba (Mark Strepan).
The girlishly appealing Anna proceeds to threaten her sister’s new life with her attempts at Polish cooking and teaching Kuba about his motherland, and Marysia hides the fact that she is still having sex with her violent ex-husband, Janusz (George Lasha).
Mother and son move from a dingy flat in London to a house in Colchester and still the sister hangs around, trying hard to be ‘a good aunt’ to Kuba, and despite being asked to leave. This is an episodic piece, with constant interruptions for minor scene changes, and never builds up a head of dramatic steam. The performances are all neatly and truthfully observed, but the climax, when it comes, is oddly downbeat. The play is reminiscent of a soulful 1960s television drama, but without cameras to linger meaningfully on pained expressions of sisterly resentment, the key moments pass by with insufficient emphasis.
Indeed, the tension between the sisters, which forms the basis of the drama, doesn’t develop much beyond mild exasperation, and with so little dramatic territory to explore, the writing (Nicola Werenowska) remains cramped and low key. There are moments when the play almost seems about to spring into life, but they too pass, and you file out at the end feeling somewhat empty-handed.
A pity, because director (Sam Potter) has the makings of a subtle chamber piece here, which examines the nature of emigration, and the leaving behind of a past you prefer to forget. Does the resultant clinging to ‘a better life’ in a new country shape you into a new person, the person you aspire to be, or does it make you shallower, with less of a sense of real belonging? These are interesting questions, but the play needs more energy, more vitality, to engage the audience and give these questions dramatic potency.