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A Time to Reap

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Some familiar conflicts lie at the heart of young playwright Anna Wakulik's darkly comic and occasionally absurdist Polish drama, part of an ongoing series of international collaborations at the Royal Court.

Central to the play is the triangular conflict between the Catholic church, the Polish state and abortion, an issue that could hardly seem more timely in light of recent events in Rome.

The 1993 outlawing of abortion initially brings riches to eminent Warsaw gyneacologist Jan (Owen Teale) but later strife, when he becomes involved in a ménage à trois with his 25-year-old son Piotr (Max Bennett).

The object of their mutual affection is Marysia (Sinead Matthews), an alluring and skittish young woman struggling to get a foot on the ladder of life. Having known Jan and his son Piotr since childhood, when she goes to Jan for an abortion as a 17-year-old (the result of a rape in a Catholic summer camp), their relationship soon takes a deeply Freudian turn.

Designer Max Jones has turned the Theatre Upstairs into a chuch, with the audience seated on three sides. It's a striking arrangement that certainly emphasises the all-encompassing nature of Catholicism, though works less well during the protracted (and somewhat derivative) sequence where Marysia goes on a jaunt in London with the newly liberated Piotr.

Director Caroline Steinbeis has teased some fine performances from the cast, and each has a role to get their teeth into. Teale is perhaps a little too cuddly as the predatory Jan, though Matthews and Bennett seem ideally suited as the wayfaring twenty-somethings.

There are some harrowing moments, most involving Marysia as she struggles to come to terms with her termination, to the point where she at one stage imagines herself as the Blessed Virgin (pictured).

Though certain resonances undoubtedly get diluted in translation (by Catherine Grosvener), it's nevertheless an intriguing contemporary parable from the other side of the continent, punctuated by sharp humour - including the best Jesus joke I've heard in a while.

And it has much to say about contemporary masculinity; in a telling exchange, Piotr arrogantly tells Marysia "I'm genetically predisposed to win Nobel Prizes, not to reproduce". It's just a shame this myriad of interesting ideas gets somewhat drowned out by the lashings of Catholic guilt.

Photos by Francis Loney


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