Pros: A wonderfully performed two hander.
Cons: The somewhat melodramatic turn towards the end of this play feels somewhat out of keeping with the otherwise.
I’m a bit of a sucker for small theatre, by which I mean those tender and compassionate shows which explore the little elements of human experience that make up our everyday lives. At first glance The Session would appear to be exactly that – a short, two handed play, about an English-Polish couple and their story. And, for the most part, that is exactly what it is.
Unfolding as if in the counselling room of this young couple, The Session slowly and gently unwraps their shared story. Ruta Irbite contributes a suitably simple and soothing design to the play, which very much has the traditional feel of a piece of fringe theatre. The Session is produced in collaboration with Mothertongue, a charity which aims, through counselling, to foster understanding and enhance communication across cultures. It is very effective at reminding us of the difficulties which a lack of shared language produces. In fact, even in those situations where there is no language barrier, this play is a prompt to all of us to remember how important open communication is for the relationships we have. When protagonist Lena expresses relief at being able to talk openly in her own language, it is clear that it is the multi-lingual approach to counselling that Mothertongue practice that has been adopted by our troubled couple. Hearing the juxtaposition of English and Polish makes for a rewarding auditory experience.
The performances are just lovely. Izabella Urbanowicz, as Lena, gives a tender and subtle performance, and I found myself right there alongside her, experiencing the exquisite agony of her life. Those moments where she slipped into her mother tongue held a beautiful melodic quality for me. For the Polish speaker I went with, I am told that her words added a different depth and texture to the play, as the real limits of not being able to tackle the nuance of a language were emphasised. Meanwhile Mark Weinman, as Robbie, gives an equally powerful performance, but it’s a struggle to like this slightly narrow minded character and his egotistical struggle with his wife and bilingual son. Despite understanding every word he spoke, I could so much more easily associate with Lena – language isn’t the only means of understanding someone and that has never been clearer than in this play. As they came to share more shared language this couple drifted further apart. I think the play taps into that fear lots of British people share regarding our inability to be part of the world stage because simply don’t have the necessary language skills; this makes it all the more uncomfortable and alienates us from Robbie as a personification of this. But he isn’t a bad man, he’s flawed and ultimately you want them to be happy, which says a lot about the strength of both performances.
The story strays a little bit too far towards the melodramatic towards the end, and falters and stumbles as a result of this. It is much more confident when it remains on the stable ground of exploring the nuances of this relationship. But this slightly flawed ending doesn’t detract significantly from what is otherwise a very lovely piece of theatre.
Go home and call to those people you love – you will only keep them close by talking to them. I can only thank Lena and Robbie for reminding me of this.
Author: Andrew Muir
Director: Debbie Hannan
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com
Booking Until: November 28th 2015