4 out of 5
The disorientation we feel watching Catherine Grosvenor's Cherry Blossom is the disorientation of her characters. They are economic migrants, venturing from Poland to the UK with more drive than language skills. In this co-production between the Traverse and the Polish company Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz, Grosvenor weaves their sense of confusion - of understanding only one side of the conversation - into the very fabric of the play. Writing in both Polish and English, she makes a monoglot audience strain to keep up.
Director Lorne Campbell adds to the air of uncertainty by rotating the characters between the four actors. All four of them - Scotland's John Kazek and Sandy Grierson, and Poland's Marta Scislowicz and Małgorzata Trofimiuk - take on, for example, the central role of the Polish mother who finds a job in an Edinburgh meat factory to pay for her daughter's education. As well as introducing a surreal theatricality (the heterosexual love scene between two male actors is particularly effective), the technique turns the story from the individual to the universal. Theirs is the loneliness, bewilderment and fear of all immigrants.
Set against this everyman tale is the true story of Robert Dziekan´ski, a construction worker who, having left his native Poland in October last year, died in Vancouver airport after a 10-hour ordeal of miscommunication. It's a curious story - delivered straight by the actors reading from clipboards - but one that becomes more comprehensible when put in the context of Cherry Blossom's evocation of linguistic confusion.
This evocation is the play's strength. Without it, the central story would be as banal as a soap opera. That is also why the 90-minute production seems a couple of scenes too long; the characters' fate is less interesting than the turmoil they experience along the way. But it is tremendously acted by the bilingual cast, with the passion of the Polish actors making a fiery contrast with the underplayed reserve of their Scottish counterparts.
The real star of the show is the set by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer, the much-touted team behind the innovative multimedia company 59 Productions, and the youngest ever associates of London's National Theatre. It's a crazy-paving of white oblongs laid flat across the stage, on to which they project a tumbling collage of words, translations, scene-setting illustrations and video footage. Not only is it a technical wonder, but it also plays a fully integrated part in building the production's dizzy atmosphere of dislocation.
© Mark Fisher, 2008