Katla Theatre’s Mary & Mietek is a dramatic, dual timeline love story, written by Maria Laumark in association with director Abi Smith, and inspired by the real-life love letters between wartime sweethearts, Mary, an English bank clerk and Mietek, a Polish soldier she met at a dance. In the play, Mary and Mietek are Ben’s (Louis Cruzat) grandparents, and he has brought their letters to the airport where he recently ex-girlfriend, Alma (Laumark) is waiting for a flight back to her home country of Denmark following the breakdown of their relationship.
The play opens with Laumark stood on an empty stage holding a suitcase with Joel Marten in the background performing music he composed specifically for the show. A feeling of poignancy is created with this gentle music from the start and Laumark’s expression of sadness, coupled with exhaustion, is very good at setting the scene.
Cruzat then bursts onto the stage with an excellent display of desperation. He has brought Mary and Mietek’s love letters for Alma to read before she leaves, much to her bewilderment. She does however agree to read them, but her flight is leaving in one hour which creates a sense of urgency. The show is presented in real time which allows the audience to be fully present for the limited period Ben and Alma have before the flight takes off.
Cruzat and Laumark transform into Mary and Mietek as Ben and Alma read through the letters, which are gradually scatted across the stage in a clever illustration of the passage of time. Slight alteration of accents allow the performers to create different characterisations for the wartime couple and the modern-day exes. Slight blurs between the timelines enhance the feeling of parallels between the two stories and create a sense of unity which is often neglected in dual timeline pieces.
The different states of the world, particularly in Europe, between the two timelines means that the changes in day-to-day life can be explored as Ben and Alma discuss the content of the letters. The awkwardness of communicating in writing is shown very well by Laumark and the difference between letter writing and today’s communication is reflected on. Both actors are excellent at showing Mary and Mietek’s excitement and longing as they read and respond to their letters. Laumark’s delicate writing together with the excellent performances create a fully rounded and tender love story, which encounters obstacles caused by family members, borders, different languages, and the ever-present war.
There are some beautiful impressions of Mary and Mietek being together in their dreams, cleverly created by Smith with soft blue lighting and intelligent choreography. Similar techniques are used to show flashbacks in Ben and Alma’s relationship as we learn how they met, and the events as their relationship progressed. Accepting that attitudes to love have changed since World War 2, there is also consideration that love can be different with different people, without meaning that earlier relationships didn’t hold the same level of meaning just because circumstances, and you, have changed.
Alma’s Danish citizenship brings Brexit to the fore for the couple, with its very real implications of whether she can even stay in the UK and, if she does, whether she can ever return to Denmark. This is cleverly further explored with the implications of marrying Mietek on Mary’s British citizenship, which she must give up even though the couple live in the UK, because of the laws at the time meaning she has to adopt his nationality upon marriage.
Mary & Mietek is an intelligent and poignant drama which fully explores the journey of falling in love against the odds. Taking notes from popular culture, such as Rachel “getting off the plane” in Friends as a starting point to explore what you are willing to give up for love and whether, on reflection, you would regret giving up the Parisian life for a man you had already broken up with several times, this is an original take on the classic love story, which doesn’t rely on tropes and cliched behaviour to present a predictable tale. We are often told to live for the moment and not worry about what’s next or plan too far ahead into the future, as you never know what is around the corner, but there’s nothing like a deadline to make you think about what you might want someday.
Mary & Mietek is being streamed by Ukraine Fringe until 3rd September 2023 and is available to watch here https://www.scenesaver.co.uk/production/mary-mietek/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 25th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: