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The Session review at Soho Theatre – ‘smart and tender’

Tom Shepherd and Izabella Urbanowicz in The Session at Soho Theatre, London Tom Shepherd and Izabella Urbanowicz in The Session at Soho Theatre, London
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When Lena and Robbie first meet they barely speak a word of each other’s language. She’s Polish and he’s British; they fall in love and have a child together but the linguistic gap, along with a deeper and less bridgeable chasm, between them remains.

Co-produced with Mothertongue, a charity that supports cross-cultural relationships, Andrew Muir’s two-hander is astute about how such partnerships can work (or otherwise), how basic attraction can transcend language, and how couples can often put off saying the most important things to one another. For the child of an eastern European mother and British father, there was an awful lot here that resonated.

While the play is framed as a couple’s therapy session taking place at some point towards the end of their marriage, there is lack of clarity in the way it handles time and it’s not always clear how many years have passed. Debbie Hannan’s production, however, has an appealing simplicity to it – the set consisting of two chairs and a handful of props swathed in dust sheets – and Izabella Urbanowicz and Tom Shepherd both bring warmth to their performances, with Urbanowicz in particular grounding things emotionally. But while Muir’s play contains some funny and touching sequences, the way it uses grief as a grenade is more problematic. It’s strongest when at its subtlest. The intermingling of Polish and English, and Lena’s pining for a place to call home, are delicately handled, but in its attempts to up the emotional stakes, the play sabotages itself to some extent, its footing becomes less sure.

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A smart, tender two-hander about a cross-cultural relationship