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

cast list
Andrew Tiernan
Andrea Riseborough
Howard Ward
Valerie Lilley
Ishia Bennison
John Rogan

directed by
Lisa Goldman
The problem with getting high is the inevitable come down. For Parcha and Dzina, the eponymous duo of poor Polish-speaking Romanians, their drug trip takes them to some pretty bleak places.

Written by Polish wunderkind Dorota Maslowska – who has just been awarded the NIKE, Poland’s highest literary award – this is a bold and surreal debut that holds a mirror up to modern society, to its coping mechanisms, vices and idols.

On first inspection this addled pair appear to be only two seriously smashed grubby partygoers trying to get home. Dzina, played by Andrea Riseborough, is a scraggy teenage mum and Parcha, played by Andrew Tiernan, is a charming oaf in a lime green shell suit.

We meet them just as they are carjacking a businessman in an attempt to get home. The businessman later abandons them in a wood, where they wander like a desperate Hansel and Gretel, clinging to each other. And that’s when things get weird. Really weird.

Because, as it turns out, they are not Polish-speaking Romanians but total charlatans. The oaf is actually an actor, a soap star, who met this gym slip mum at a boho party with an extreme poverty dress code, hence their shabby attire. But while he was only ever play acting, and is now panicking about how to get back on set, Dzina, who has faked her pregnancy by stuffing tiny crocheted jumpers up her top, opts for permanent escapism.

Their journey into the nadir is a mad, sad drug trip that crosses Poland and is peppered with characters that are darkly comic and ghoulishly entertaining. This is a trippy and unnerving adventure and if you are familiar with incoherent evenings then this play will feel like a flash back.

Director and translator Lisa Goldman has deftly brought to life a cadre of hard drinking, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, Eastern European nutters: burly bouncers, transvestites and demented paraplegics. Each character has their own story and provides a shady stopping-off point on this voyage into the abyss, so that when all the narrative strands come together in the final scene they create a truly disturbing, warped tableaux.

Miriam Buether’s tardis-like set makes brilliant use of sliding panels to hide and reveal a lot of truly fabulous interiors: a smart cafe-bar, a ramshackle hut. Each adds another layer to this deeply dark fairy tale.

Maslowska’s memorably insane play is something of a trip in itself, one that leaves you realising that most people, when given the chance to break free of states of mind – or state borders – will usually take that leap.

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