A Couple Of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians, Soho Theatre, London

Paul Taylor
Tuesday 11 March 2008 01:00
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They're the hitchhikers from hell. She's a pregnant, glue-sniffing wacko. He's a shell-suited motormouth with an intimidating leer. Claiming to be poor, Polish-speaking Romanians, Dzina and Parcha hijack a lift to Warsaw with a censorious, middle-class Pole whose reluctance swiftly turns into sobbing hysteria under the onslaught of their provocations. He tries to get himself arrested for speeding, only to find himself the recipient of five grand and an MP3 player – a nutty gesture of fairy-tale munificence from the departing pair.

All is not as it first seems in this pungent debut play by Dorota Maslowska, the 24-year-old Polish literary phenomenon who already has two award-winning novels under her belt. As they trudge through a freezing forest, the couple doff their parodic East European accents in favour of cockney ones. Their cruddy clothes and scrounging-immigrant shtick are revealed as their costumes for a drug-fuelled party on the theme of extreme poverty. Parcha turns out to be an actor known for playing Father Grzegorz, a priest in a TV soap. Dzina is a depressed single mother who blew a month's child maintenance on the party and is worryingly vague about where she left her boy.

Maslowska offers a bitterly comic take on post-Communist Poland, presenting it as a world where new wealth fails to take notice of the destitution and where identity is established by differentiation from undesirable strangers. This makes the black joke at the play's centre particularly apt. Having pretended to be poverty-stricken aliens, the pair become the victims of their own fiction as they emerge from their drug high into cold, uncooperative reality. Even Parcha's face becomes a millstone: far from convincing people that he's the amiable TV priest, it makes them suspicious that he's a wanted villain.

Lisa Goldman (who translated the script with Paul Sirett) directs this powerful English premiere. Played out on a bleak iron set, the piece unfolds like an unholy cross between a road movie and a twisted fable. The production succeeds in imparting a vivid, atmospheric distinctiveness to each of the episodes, from the chaotically hilarious ride with a wealthy dipso (Ishia Bennison) to the charity-free zone of a soulless road-side diner. Andrew Tiernan brings an engaging, desperate energy to the role of Parcha, and the excellent Andrea Riseborough unnerves to brilliant effect as his psychologically precarious and terminally lost sidekick.

To 29 March (0870 429 6883)

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