A Time To Reap, Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London


One of Poland's hottest political topics - abortion and the Catholic Church - is the animating force in this extraordinary three-hander by 22 year old Anna Wakulik. Already seen in her native country, the piece came into being under the auspices of the Royal Court's excellent international department.

The theatre now mounts the UK premiere in a brilliantly acted production by Caroline Steinbeis that does a superb job of releasing and focusing the play's fierce, off-the-wall energies as it veers between vivid interaction and tumbling, confessional commentary and as it ricochets between Warsaw, London and its recurring point of reference: the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in the mountainous pilgrim village of Niepokalanow. 

Max Jones's adroit traverse design reconfigures the Theatre Upstairs so that it resembles a slightly unsettling and hallucinatory church-of-the-mind.  Under the Nazis and the Communists, abortion was widely available in Poland.  But not since 1993 and a recent move to tighten the anti-abortion legislation still further by scrapping all the categories of humane exception came within a squeak of being voted for in parliament. 

A Time To Reap is not, however, an “issue” play in any narrow sense of the term.  Instead, by plunging us into the messy predicament of its characters, it takes a sharply ambivalent and provocative look at the tangled question of what has been gained and what lost in post-Communist society.

Jan, the robustly secular and successful gynaecologist, is no principled pro-choice campaigner but a man who sardonically cashes in on the situation (“Thank you, Catholic Church”) by performing illegal “procedures” that cost the equivalent of a month's salary.

Marysia, a seventeen year old who been impregnated by consensual sex with a priest, turns to him for help and winds up becoming both his receptionist and his lover. Later, history will partly repeat itself and a bitterly acrimonious  triangle form, after her whirlwind holiday in London where Max's son, Piotr, has abandoned his studies for a life of wild hedonism.

Owen Teale beautifully builds up a growing sense of inner rot and darkness in the strapping abortionist who has benefited from a system he theoretically abhors and Max Bennett is brilliantly driven and dangerous as the son who is on the run from that kind of Poland (while expecting dad to pick up the tab). As Marysia, Sinead Matthews sheds skin after skin in a heartbreaking and astonishingly layered performance. Resoundingly recommended.

To March 23; 0207 565 5000