Friday, 1 March 2013

Theatre review: A Time to Reap

The Royal Court's having another of its international seasons, which this year takes us to Poland, and Anna Wakulik's A Time to Reap, which looks at the influence of the Catholic Church via a love triangle that keeps things in the family. Jan (Owen Teale) is a gynaecologist whose business suddenly thrives when Poland passes an anti-abortion law, and he makes a fortune performing them secretly after hours. One patient is 17-year-old Marysia (Sinéad Matthews,) a girl from the small rural town where he used to take his son on holiday. After terminating a pregnancy that was the result of Marysia's fling with a priest at Catholic camp, Jan takes her on as his assistant and, soon enough, lover. Eight years later, when Jan's son Piotr (Max Bennett) resurfaces, he invites Marysia to London with him, and soon she has need of his father's services again.

Max Jones' set is a striking thrust set into the Upstairs theatre, a sort-of church that hangs over the actions of the atheist Jan, bisexual Piotr and most of all the one character who retains a faith, the guilt-stricken Marysia.

This is a very strong trio performing in Caroline Steinbeis' production, which for a while looks promising as we get to know the characters, their hangups, and the way the Church's involvement in the State affects the lives of even those who wish to have nothing to do with it. Teale projects some of the older-man charm that causes Marysia to be so in thrall to Jan despite realising she doesn't actually like him much; Bennett's attraction as Piotr is of a much more reckless, dangerous kind; and Matthews' powerful performance as the woman with numerous outside influences telling her what to do with her body, emotionally anchors the production.

But the creatives' efforts can only mask the material's shortcomings for so long, and as A Time to Reap goes on and descends into sometimes turgid melodrama, it loses focus and, I'm afraid, my interest.

A Time to Reap by Anna Wakulik in a version by Catherine Grosvenor is booking until the 23rd of March at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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