A funny and moving story about three girls from Eastern Europe, trying their luck in London. They arrive in a dangerous world full of prejudices and scratch out a living while struggling to keep the golden promise of Western Europe alive. When one of them receives an offer from her hometown university, it changes their friendship forever. A new play by British writer Cheryl White, based in The Hague, about friendship, choices and loss.

ReviewPetya’s Story

By Cheryl White
Directed by Sarah Mahoney

Ruth Tapp - Petya
Katerina Djenadic - Imbi
Elaine Gracie - Anna

Rosemary Branch Theatre
21-26 October, 2008

A review by Rosie Fiore for EXTRA! EXTRA!

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the number of Eastern European people living around you will have increased dramatically since a number of countries joined the EU in 2004. In our suburb, every second corner shop now stocks Polish goods, and almost every service industry job seems to be held by a chirpy, well-spoken person from Latvia or the Czech Republic. Petya’s Story offers us a small insight into the lives of three such girls who have come to London to take their chances and try to change their futures. 

Petya and Imbi share a small flat. They both work as cleaners: Petya in a hotel, Imbi for a number of private clients. Petya dreams of marrying a rich husband who will take care of her and give her lots of babies. Imbi’s dreams are bigger: she has applied to university in her home country, and the play opens when she has been accepted. Now she has to raise £1,000 for her tuition fees.

This may not seem like an enormous sum of money, but for girls living hand-to-mouth on supermarket-brand pasta and Jaffa cakes, and earning £2-3 an hour, the problem seems insurmountable. However, Imbi is determined: she takes on another job and plans a car-boot sale (although she has no car). As she starts to work long hours and focus on her plans, her easy friendship with Petya begins to show strain. For the first time, she and Petya are at odds: Petya wants a good life: she wants to be accepted by the other girls at work (especially cool, promiscuous Anna), and she wants to party and find a nice boyfriend. She cannot understand Imbi’s focus.

In many ways, Petya’s Story is a classic tale of the complexities of relationships, and how extraneous pressures make the differences between people apparent. All three girls deal with issues of morality, of loyalty and truth. Petya offers to supply items for Imbi’s car boot sale: Imbi is happy to accept a fox fur which Petya takes from the lost property cupboard in the hotel where she works, yet rejects a diamond earring Petya finds on the floor because she sees that as theft. Petya wants a husband to support her, yet both girls scorn Anna, who sleeps with guests in the hotel and gets men to pay for things.

The performances are all strong, and Ruth Tapp as the ever-positive Petya stands out particularly. Yet I couldn’t help feeling the play could have been harder hitting and more in-depth. There was some sense that the girls led difficult lives and were working for below minimum wage, but we gained no real understanding of how hard it was for them, or indeed how they might be at risk from exploitation. There was some focus on the culture they had left behind, but I’d have liked to understand more about their sense of isolation in a strange country.  

I also felt that the play ran its course and the story concluded poignantly and satisfactorily, but then carried on for a further two scenes to wring a “Hollywood” happy ending out for both major characters. We didn’t need it. It made light of the growth the characters had undergone and simplified the complex situations in which they found themselves. 

These dissatisfactions notwithstanding, Petya’s Story is heartwarming, well acted and engaging. You cannot help but love ditzy Petya and care deeply what happens to the girls. Perhaps, when we next meet a Lithuanian office cleaner or Polish waitress, we might stop to think who she may be, and what her story is. 

Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm Sunday 2.00pm and 6.00pm
 £10 (£8.00 concessions)

The Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Road,
N1 3DT
Tel: 020 7704 6665 (theatre & box office)
email: cecilia@rosemarybranch.co.uk
EXTRA! EXTRA! www.extraextra.org 

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