The New Diorama Theatre has bravely opened its doors to a season of new Romanian writing with Elevator as the lead show. Gabriel Pintilei’s play was originally written and performed in Bucharest, Romania and later adapted into a film. It explores the psychology of a 90’s generation of teenagers in a society seemingly without limits, through the close relationship of two youths who suddenly find themselves confined to the space of a cargo elevator with little chance of escape.
The couple scream, joke, kiss, piss, smile, sleep, pass out and cry in an undulating rhythm of ups and downs. Deprived of food and water, their energy weakens over time, and their only connection with the outside world – a mobile phone – proves useless. From a neutral space, filled with irony and humour, the lift gradually takes on an aggressive character as time ticks away.
Under Rachel Parish’s direction, the performance maintains a strong rhythmic dynamic but gets lost in its lack of cultural specificity. Despite an eloquent and evocative translation by Cristina Catalina that skilfully unearths the subtext to this generational paradox, the anglicization of Elevator substitutes clear cultural traits for a diluted attempt at universality.
The play is as much about being trapped as it is about feeling trapped, and it is no accident that its main protagonists are teenagers. Talking about imported American pumps carries a completely different meaning in the West. In a play in which the context, language and characters are so deeply Romanian, relocating the story to a Stockwell estate, rather than the abandoned factory with a cargo lift in an unnamed Romanian city, removes a crucial layer of the play’s meta commentary.
The relationship between freedom and limitation that underpins the text comes to life more in its original cultural context, and the translation would benefit were that relationship maintained. It prompts the question, how do you reconcile the specificity of culture with the pressure of ‘exporting’ one of Romania’s best playwrights to a wider cultural audience?
Still, Elevator is a strong, enjoyable, realist drama about a generation lost in the euphoria of freedom yet stalked by a darker cultural history. A promising start for this new London venue.