ARGUABLY THE CENTRAL horror of clash between Serbians and Bosnians in the early 1990s was the conflation of neighbour against neighbour and the ugly brutality which saw women and children mauled in the mix of war that had been a suppurating tribal boil for centuries. Aimée Goldsmith and Lidija Marelic have taken on the monster challenge of representing the insanity of love in a time of internecine ghastliness, and their success is unequivocal.
Mirela (Goldsmith) is a young woman, native to Sarajevo whose heart and soul is invested in the texture and the current ugliness of her city. She is Bosnian. Her lover, Aleksander (Duane Behrens) is Serbian and thus unfolds a love story abounding in rich war story cliché – but this is not to its discredit. The clichéd nature of the work is the glue that binds its fabric and while it is by and large predictable, you’re immediately invested in its energies and you remain deeply focused through its tightly choreographed duration.
Enter Peter (Chris van Rensburg). A young gung-ho South African photojournalist, with a Bang-Bang Club dream in his heart and a sense of bravado in his spirit, he loses contact with his team and needs to get to Dubrovnik. Mirela becomes his guide, and she opens up a world that is tearing itself to bloody shreds, as they pass through atrocity-ravished Sarajevo on the way.
But the Serbian military put the screws on Aleksander’s sense of self, they rest a gun and a uniform on his sense of machismo, and the world becomes a place crumpled and smashed to pieces by the monster of fraught loyalties.
It’s a hard hitting play featuring an incredibly fine set that, made of disused cardboard boxes is remarkably evocative of the quirky ceramic work of Carolyn Heydenrych in its scratchy sense of vulnerable boxy architecture. Designed by Kayli Elit Smith, it projects an irrevocable sense of the universal insanity of war which defines Sarajevo as its root by dint of the graffiti it bears. Curiously, the play has scant historical contextual references, which enhances its sense of universality, as it blurs the specifics of the Bosnian war. Change the place names and the accents, and the story could be articulated about a slice of virtually any other war this world has seen.
That sense of moral wretchedness and hysteria in the face of a world with no more values is articulated with a fine sense of directness. Featuring strong sound design, the work is raw and polished in all the right places. There’s terror and filth and blood and rape. And yet there are moments of levity. A dance. An imaginary foray onto the sidewalks of Paris, where champagne is drunk. A last grasp at beauty.
Excellently cast and superbly constructed, Cheers to Sarajevo is an important work which fuses together the complex array of ideologies that enable men to be soldiers and women to be victims, which witnesses love between conflicting powers and see death as the only possible solution. It’s a play that’s both simple and complex in its clear confrontation with the universal madness of war. And it won’t leave you untouched.
- Cheers to Sarajevo is co-written by Lidija Marelic and Aimée Goldsmith and directed by Lidija Marelic assisted by Lareece Kelly. It features design by Kayli Elit Smith and is performed by Duane Behrens, Aimée Goldmsith, Julian Kruger, Yiorgo Sotoropolis and Chris van Rensburg at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until October 8. Call 011 883 8606 or visit theatreonthesquare.co.za