Reviews West End & Central Published 13 November 2015

The Session

Soho Theatre ⋄ 3rd - 28th November 2015

Language barriers.

Lydia Thomson
Tom Shepherd and Izabella Urbanowicz perform as Robbie and Lena.

Tom Shepherd and Izabella Urbanowicz perform as Robbie and Lena.

The Session, written by Andrew Muir, is the story of a British man and a Polish woman meeting, falling in love, and experiencing the breakdown of their marriage. The audience play their marriage counsellor for the evening, and are privy to the re-enactment of their lightest and darkest moments together in a bid to move forwards.

The play covers some big topics, from language, to love, to home and belonging. But most broadly, it is about communication, and when Robbie (Tom Shepherd) and Lena (Izabella Urbanowicz) first meet, they can barely say two words to each other. They speak charmingly in physical gestures and simple English, and their relationship is born of a pure love and appreciation of the other person’s energy and physicality.

The depth of their love onstage is, however, not totally convincing. This might be due to the fact that the majority of the text is addressed to the audience, and the confusion created by the characters talking individually about different things. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe how we as an audience oscillate between willing them to succeed in healing their marriage, and thinking they’re better off apart. Indeed, if only they spoke about the same thing, at the same time, in the same language, maybe we would expect them to stand chance.

It raises interesting questions, particularly at a time when immigration is such a ripe topic for discussion. When Lena threatens to leave Robbie and move back home to Poland, we are willing her to stay as much out of repairing their marriage as for her to feel like she belongs here. But will that be possible while her husband won’t even bother to learn Polish, and takes no interest in Polish traditions? After all, now she’s in Britain, what possible use could those things have?

Whereas a lot can be said for the play, less can be said for the production. It’s nice to see the text up on its feet: the dynamics of the story are approached delicately and sensitively, the comedic moments land well enough, and Debbie Hannan’s direction ensures the journey between the highs and lows moves elegantly. The set is simple and practical, and props lay covered in fabric, waiting to be unveiled and spark a memory. But I’m not sure we learn anything more about the characters as a result of them standing before us. It is a beautiful depiction of the story, but it is a safe one, nuzzled behind the beats of the text itself. Perhaps it speaks too plainly.

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Lydia Thomson

Lydia writes about theatre for her own blog and reviews local work for the Basingstoke Gazette and the Hampshire Chronicle. She was also a member of the reviewing team for LIFT 2014. As well as arts journalism, Lydia is a playwright and performance artist working in Hampshire and London. She is an associate artist of Proteus Theatre Company in Basingstoke and is part of the artist's network at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton.

The Session Show Info


Directed by Debbie Hannan

Written by Andrew Muir

Cast includes Tom Shepherd and Izabella Urbanowicz

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