Lyttelton Theatre (National)
It is not over-praising Croatian playwright Tena Štivičić to say that 3 Winters is fit to live in such company.
Set in Zagreb, Yugoslavia but then capital of Croatia, this family saga has the sweep of an ambitious novel and the erudition of a political history.
The story follows four generations of a family that seems unable to bear male children. Through 2¾ hours, the plot matches the ups and downs of the quarrelsome Kos dynasty against those of a country that is just as troubled.
The curtain comes up on Jo Herbert playing powerhouse Rose King as she tries to find a home immediately after the War in 1945. She ends up winning the jackpot in a kind of key lottery.
The staunch Communist moves with a weak husband and babe in arms (soon to be Siobhan Finneran’s Masha) into the house where her mother, Josie Walker playing Monika was once a servant in a politically astute move.
A shock comes with the arrival of Karolina (Hermione Gulliford when young and Susan Engel in lovably eccentric maturity), formerly mistress of the mansion but more recently resident in a madhouse.
An evening of intersecting stories spends more time in 2011 than the other eras. At that point, Croatia is on the brink of attaining membership of the EU with all that will entail, especially the chance to embrace capitalism to the full.
The parents are past it, while one daughter is a lonely battered ex-wife (Lucy Black’s Dunya) and the other (Jodie McNee’s Alisa) an equally lonely, love-lorn academic living in London.
However, Sophie Rundle who gets an invigorating closing speech in the role of Masha's beautiful youngest daughter Lucy is about to wed a businessman/petty gangster. He is not seen and his motivations are clouded but compulsorily purchasing the rest of the house to create a sanctuary for the discordant family is high on the list.
In addition to characterising the advent of Communism and (ironically in Britain today) the excitement of joining the European Union, 3 Winters stops off in between to show life on a further cusp in 1991 as the Velvet Revolution offers hope that was always likely to be over-ambitious in some parts of Europe while Yugoslavia collapses into bloody civil war and genocide.
Like the country, the family is riven with dissent and disagreement in every generation to the point where they are metaphorically, and in one case literally, at each other’s throats.
While Howard Davies delivers his usual significant contribution, 3 Winters is an exceptionally well-constructed play that makes the most of a large cast.
Together, they help to develop not only the intricacies of a complicated family across the generations but also the tripartite vision of a composite country being put together and torn apart amidst some of the worst warfare that Europe has witnessed in the last three quarters of a century.
It is pleasing to see that the National is right back on top form with an unforgettable play that should be on everybody’s list of must-see events this winter.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher