Sarajevo Story

Created by Lightwork.
Lyric Hammersmith
(2008)

Publicity image

Even before the play begins there is a blurring of boundaries between audience and actors, with the cast already in position on the chairs at the back of the stage. This challenge to convention is a theme that is echoed throughout the play.

The impressive multimedia performance continues to engage the audience throughout its racy and uninterrupted ninety minutes, by using to dazzling effect its talented cast, dramatic lighting and music, sound and movement.

The play effortlessly flows from scene to scene, character to character, with each of the five cast members remaining on stage for the entire performance. The cast play a range of roles, each as convincing as the first, through effective use of powerful visual cues. Despite its serious content the play is in equal measure playful and frivolous but also hard hitting.

The performance is executed with minimal props, the most integral of which are ten red chairs. The cast move these around on the stage to indicate different scenes and their constant presence contributes to the fluidity of the play.

On the back wall of the stage various film clips are projected in a narrow band, giving a sense that the audience are only privy to a particular perspective.

The plot centres around the experiences of an American couple: Barbara, a judge serving in the Bosnian war crimes court in Sarajevo, and Jeff, an artist working on a soundscape project for the Charles Bridge in Prague.

They experience a journey from intimacy and unity to fragmentation and disparity on both physical and emotional levels. This contrasts dramatically against the new marriage of their daughter Tanya to Seamus.

Bella Merlin plays the lead role of Barbara and has a strong presence on the stage. This is well matched by Jonathan Lermit, who plays Jeff. The chemistry between the two actors is evident from their gentle intimacy at the start of the play to their passionate conflict towards the end.

Dulcie Lewis proves adept at switching characters, performing a convincingly passionate scene with her fiancé as Tanya, moments before performing with equal conviction as a composed translator in the formal setting of the court.

Having established polar opposites, the play questions the very nature of polarity, meditating on the differences between; Christianity and Islam, public and private, relationship and career to name a few.

Sarajevo Story explores the depths of public and private aspects of its characters' lives. A touching scene between mother and daughter with the sky line of Sarajevo as its backdrop contrasts the intimacy of this private relationship with a very public place and exposed community.

Through the character of Samir, the audience journeys from a position of sympathy in his telling of his sister's abduction and rape to a more ambiguous position when he appears in the war courts as a murderer, the role of victim and aggressor melding, eluding conventional definition.

The notion of 'Truth' is ruthlessly examined in the court through the inventive use of a translator. The first translation is executed with word for word accuracy, the witness and translator appearing to echo each other. The final translation of the court room is filled with subjective interpretation and inaccuracies and thrusts forth the question: what is Truth?

Towards the end of the play, Barbara and Jeff are engulfed by a ferocious and passionate argument debating the morality of using first hand extracts from witnesses' testimonies at the war crimes court in the name of art. This argument reiterates the question implied by the play itself (which uses real testimony from the court). Is the use of these words freedom of expression or exploitation of victims of horrific crimes?

Sarajevo Story presents some bleak reflections on the Bosnian conflict of the early nineties, something this play should be celebrated for making us remember.

As might be expected with a post-modern production, the play poses more questions than it answers and concludes in a satisfyingly open ended fashion. A rich and intelligent production, the cast and directors should be applauded for this stimulating piece of theatre.

Running until 15th March 2008

Reviewer: Eva Ritchie