There is something genuinely weird about this play, A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians, by 24-year-old Dorota Maslowska, in which two whacked-out hoodlums make a havoc-strewn progress across Poland and jump aboard a coal barge bound for Romania. She, Dzina, is a glue-sniffing pregnant prostitute; he, Parcha, is a violently psychotic actor famous for playing a priest in a television soap series.
Maslowska’s text has been translated by director Lisa Goldman and writer Paul Sirett, but retains a grim post-Communist European grittiness about it that makes this curious and dreamlike travelogue hit you like a teenage version of Oliver Stone’s film Natural Born Killers (itself a source for Ben Elton’s satirical novel and play, Popcorn).
Every time you think, during the play’s noisy, brutal 90 minutes, that this is too much, or indeed too little, some striking detail of aspiration or cultural reference will pull you up short and carry you forward. The form of the play is interesting, too, a raw stew of voice-over, ear-bashing pop music, fantasy travel, role-playing and abusive dependency.
Dzina and Parcha are indeed Polish, but claim an underclass, gypsy status in a spurious Romanian antecedence; “Romanian” carries with it an idea of homeland as well as of “otherness.” If this is how youngsters east of Belgrade are thinking, then we are indeed about to enter deeply troubled times. Nationality is a bit of a joke in the new Europe; our own immediate experience of Poles and Romanians is confined to cheap labour, incomprehensible chatter on buses and tubes, and a sort of bubbling resentment over the immigration question.
Lisa Goldman’s production is fairly wild, but the play seems to require some larger setting in which to reverberate, despite Miriam Buether’s striking design of improvised cars, rubbish-strewn street corners, low dives and the fateful, inset bathroom where a mock suicide is chillingly re-enacted.
Burly Andrew Tiernan as Parcha and doll-like Andrea Riseborough as Dzina give extraordinary performances as the black-toothed desperadoes, bent on a course of destructive nihilism and joyless hedonism. Their appalled, and in some ways equally appalling, fellow travellers include Valerie Lilley as a crude barmaid, Ishia Bennison as a completely drunk driver and John Rogan as a benign old man who spots the famous face.
The play’s real meaning remains elusive. But the sense of young lives afloat in a nightmare, the poignancy of their cultural alienation, is inescapable and disturbing. And for all its youthful messiness, it carries a punch and ferocity on a par with the decade-old yowls of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill.