Spanning roughly a decade as it moves between flashbacks and the modern day, Tu I Teraz is an ambitious production telling the story of Marysia, a single mother who brought her son Kuba from Poland to London ten years ago in search of a better life.
Ania Sowinski brings steely charm to the role of Marysia, making both her great strength of character and her unforgiving treatment of her sister equally believable. Because when Marysia’s sister Anna arrives unannounced at her flat, she feels as though the life she has worked so hard to build for herself and for Kuba is threatened: seeing Anna reminds her of Poland, which she loathes; Marysia can hardly bear having her in the house. Unfortunately, her deep-rooted hatred of Poland is never really explored or explained, just mentioned a lot – which is the main problem with Tu I Teraz, and one it is hard to ignore.
The short scenes do not allow tension to build and begin to take on a repetitive feel as the play continues, though clever indicators keep confusion at bay in spite of the use of flashback, which can be difficult to pull off on stage. For instance, when Marysia, discussing her son’s upcoming birthday, she produces a pair of very small shoes from a bag, we are able to understand that this is the past simply by knowing his current age – 15.
Nicola Werenowska has written the teenaged Kuba in a way that is really quite lazy and stereotypical, to the great detriment of the play as a whole. He feels at times like a parody: that teenagers can be grumpy and rude is an undeniable fact (if fairly unoriginal), but the problem with Kuba is that he is given very little scope to develop as a character in any real way. In one scene he may soften, warm to a person or a situation, only to revert to his original surliness in the very next scene, as if the preceding one never happened.
However, with the exception of Kuba, Werenowska’s play absolutely does not suffer from a lack of ideas, but none of them are quite as developed as they could be. Werenowska has failed to decide what her play is actually about. Is it about examining the reasons why so many Polish immigrants have settled in the UK? About looking at the effect of childhood trauma on a developing mind and personality? Does it seek to examine how the arrival of a young man’s teenage years can affect the co-dependent relationship of a single mother and her only son? It is about all of these things and none of them, because each idea is suffocated by the next and there are so many intentions and half-concepts floating around that one is somehow left with a sense of nothing having happened.
The use of space is deeply intelligent, the acting – particularly that of the two sisters, played by Sowinski and Anna Elijasz – is commendable, and there are some gorgeous moments here. Some of the scenes between Marysia and Kuba are moving and funny, and show a sensitive understanding of single parenthood. Objectively, there really is much to commend this production, but somehow it does not quite work. Perhaps this is why one leaves the theatre with a sense of disappointment – there is evidently, in Nicola Werenowska, the potential for a play that is very good indeed, perhaps even great. But Tu I Teraz is not it.
Tu I Teraz is at Hampstead Theatre until 19 January 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Hampstead Theatre website.