This video from Britain is called Anna Wakulik on ‘A Time to Reap’.
Thursday 21 March 2013
Interview with Anna Wakulik, a young Polish writer making her mark in Britain, about her new play
In the last decade or so Poland has seen an unprecedented emergence of women playwrights and in this country theatres have tentatively begun to use their studio spaces to test audiences’ receptiveness to what they’ve got to say.
It’s an initiative that has been pretty successful and 24-year-old Anna Wakulik is one of the latest crop to make her mark.
She’s in a philosophical mood – if somewhat worn out – following work on the production of Time To Reap for the Jerwood space at London’s Royal Court theatre and separately at Teatr Polski in Poznan, Poland – an impressive achievement.
The play’s raison d’etre is the stranglehold the Catholic church has on lawmaking in Poland, particularly when it comes to abortion. What inspired her to write it is “the hypocrisy permeating the discourse of church luminaries, parliamentarians and backward sectors of society,” Wakulik says.
The play’s narrative is deceptively simple. In a Poland turned upside down after 1989, a thirty-something Warsaw-based gynaecologist Jan (Owen Teale) is making a mint performing illegal abortions for women who can afford it.
He’s separated from his Catholic wife and viciously contemptuous of a state held hostage by a backward church hierarchy.
He periodically visits a small village in the south of the country where his son Piotr (Max Bennett) makes friends with the local postman’s daughter, the religious if inquisitive free spirit Marysia (Sinead Matthews).
Fast forward a few years and Marysia, now 17, unexpectedly appears at Jan’s Warsaw doorstep. She’s pregnant, jobless and homeless.
Jan falls head over heels for Marysia and takes care of all three problems. The feeling is reciprocated but their relationship is tested when Piotr, who now lives in London where he is supposed to be studying law, returns for a brief sojourn. He ends up inviting Marysia, with his father’s blessing, to London for a fortnight break.
But Piotr has abandoned his studies and leads a hedonistic existence in the upper echelons of the moneyed Brits. A fatal attraction develops – Marysia gets pregnant and when both return separately to Warsaw all relationships implode spectacularly.
The trio, Wakulik explains, embody separate perceptions of and responses to Polish reality. Jan cynically exploits women trapped by oppressive anti-abortion legislation, while the errant Piotr drifts aimlessly – at his father’s expense – and hates having to fly in planes full of Polish labourers.
Meanwhile Marysia sees her ambition of becoming an architect thwarted by her class origins and lack of financial means.
Wakulik equips Marysia with a rich range of emotions, a razor-sharp intelligence and an abundance of side-splitting repartees.
Sinead Matthews inhabits the role with engaging veracity and blistering energy. Her final feminist take on Hail Mary, breathtakingly anguished, is terrifying as a desperate admission of defeat. Teale and Bennett are the perfect foils for her and convincingly nuanced as deeply flawed, selfish and ultimately untrustworthy men.
Time To Reap’s impressive staging owes as much to Wakulik’s perceptive writing as the nurturing direction of Caroline Steinbeis and the admirably seamless translation by Catherine Grosvenor.
The London and Poznan runs have sold out and that demonstrates both the need to open spaces for a better understanding of one of the largest group of economic migrants in Britain and the dearth of a serious public debate on women’s control over their reproductive rights in Poland.
Wakulik is particularly disappointed these issues have not been picked up by Polish reviewers in her native country, who for the most part engage in self-censorship to protect their careers.
She admits to being unequivocally on the left but perceives her role more as an instigator of debate than as a political activist.
A big concern is the lack of job opportunities and growing inequality. Yet when she tells me that half her friends and acquaintances have already left Poland there is optimism in her voice as she explains that she’s a great believer in reason and the empowering might of learning.
It’s ironic though that when Wakulik sends off a batch of grant applications to develop her next play a good few will be posted to addresses abroad.
Time To Reap runs at the Royal Court Jerwood, Sloane Square, London SW1 until March 23. Box office: (020) 7565-5000.