Apologies to anyone who dropped by for advice on winter blues. This post is about a play currently showing at The National Theatre in London. It is the Royal National now but honestly I don’t think anyone ever, ever calls it that!
3 Winters is a multi-layered, metaphorical masterpiece by Tena Štivičić. The playwright has had numerous awards and has written at least eight plays for adults and two for children. She is also a columnist in a magazine in Croatia called Zaposlena and a feature film of one of her plays, Invisible, is currently in production.
This play takes us at a steady pace through the history of Croatia from 1945 up to 2011. That is to say, not exactly chronologically, the play opens with a puzzling interview between a badly dressed woman who appears to be requesting housing assistance; she is Rose King, and the “General” has sent her to get accommodation from this bureau. She is given the choice of an assortment of keys and selects one, having looked at several labels.
We then switch to a family dinner, the youngest of three daughters is on the eve of her marriage, her two siblings have arrived, one from Germany and the other from somewhere else; there is a great deal of joshing and jostling for attention, not least from the mother, Masha who is trying to get the supper on the table.
So we zigzag backwards and forwards between periods each scene revealing slightly more about these people and this house and who fits where in the jigsaw. All the time though, there are several levels on which to understand what is actually happening. For example (and this gives nothing away, but demonstrates what I am trying to explain) there is a particularly unpleasant incident in the bedroom between the Croatian daughter and her German husband in which he attacks his wife and nearly chokes her. It does not take much historical background to recognise that this represents more than a domestic incident, the two people stand for their two countries – Germany and Croatia and what happened during the Second World War. Put like that in words it sounds utterly banal, but in the context of the play these extra meanings only have time to percolate slowly, but each new flash of insight adds meaning to other scenes, so that by the end of the play the audience have been through quite an emotional trauma. Nothing compared to the reality, merely a glimpse – but a glimpse from time to time into the abyss.
From the start there is a projection of newsreels which give us the context, so at the beginning of the play we are looking at a war torn city: refugees, broken buildings, weeping women – general post-war catastrophe. The stage is divided with floor to ceiling screens which move from side to side, opening and closing our view of what is going on; this makes it possible for the scene shifts to be more or less instantaneous, so our first scene between Rose and the accommodation bureau is on the right of the stage; the screen shifts to the wings on the right and we are in the dining room of a fairly elegant house, laptops and discussions of recording a TV programme ensue giving us a clue to where we are time-wise, if not geographically. Clearly, coming from Germany is a source of some envy and a discussion of the merits or otherwise of the European Union shows us more exactly where we are geographically. In fact, Zagreb, Croatia.
It is quite impossible to truly reflect the complexity of the relationships, the geo-political conflicts and the metaphorical meanings behind each one of the scenes. Suffice it to say that this is a richly mined resource – a thinker’s play. Anyone with even the most basic understanding of the Balkan peninsula should be able to grasp the basic message of the play. Croatia is a state over which enemies have fought, friendships have foundered, families have split, many have died. It was problems in the Balkans that led to the assassination of the Archduke which led to…but don’t let’s go there. Croatia has been a country in its own right; part of a country, Yugoslavia, whether by design or accident and then a country with its own borders again. But all at what cost?
The production is brilliant, the acting is superb and this is a great night out. There are still seats…go for it.
On another note entirely – the National Theatre catering facilities have had (and are still undergoing) a fantastic re-vamp. The choices are quite different and varied, and there is also another off site facility called The Green Room which is within the Coin Street Co-operative area, in partnership with the National Theatre. I haven’t tried it yet, but certainly will be going there in the near future. We has a delicious meal at House, the new bar restaurant offer, more or less where the Mezzanine was before.