The winter of 2014 is around the corner in London. One of the bustling capitals of the world is speeding into the new year. Buskers, cars, Christmas carols, trains, noise, English with all possible and impossible accents, smells from thai over curry to churros, languages of the world, crowd, hustle and bustle of a big city. This is London – the concentrated energy of over 8 million registered residents and their guests that double the inhabitants during the year. It’s the synonym for a sparkling place, where everything seems possible.
On the other hand, the winters of 1945, 1990 and 2011, in Croatia were very different than the life of Londoners is today. The events that happened during 1945 and 1990, left massive marks on Croatian people lives and their echo is still present in the air of the winter to come. They are a burden that shaped every family in some way and they form just a part of the turmoil that happened in Croatia within the last 100 years. You’ll get a grasp of what I am talking about, if I tell you that my grandparents were born on the Dalmatian soil at the beginning of the XXth century, stayed in Croatia their whole lives, but saw 5 different states coming and going.
These days, 3 Winters, a play written by the Croatian playwright Tena Štivićić, is being performed at The National Theatre in London. It is a warm, human tale of common people survival and their personal relationships in the upheaval of wars, set around one family living in Zagreb. The story of my family would be different, but I found it close to my heart anyway. Surely, a non-Croatian person will not be able to relate to as many things as I did, but the play is also an interesting introduction into one side of the troubled soul of the country that the British know only for the beaches, as one of the characters suggests at some point. Since this is not a play about history, but about relationships in a family, there are many human layers that everyone will find familiar, irrespective of nationality.
The actors are very good and they persuaded me to be the Croats I know, so I can only praise them for their acting. On top of this, there is attention to detail on the stage, like the use of a bottle of Šljivovica (a type of brandy) produced in Croatia, so you do have a feeling to be stepping into a house of a Croatian family. The change of the scenes, in order to move in between the periods, was cleverly made by showing the TV extracts from the times in question and one can easily tell what’s happening when. Nevertheless, I’d suggest, to those not familiar with the Croatian history, that they read Marcus Tanner’s short summary in the program. It would help to understand the background even more.
After the play, a British couple in their sixties, with whom I had spoken during the break, became curious about Croatian history and wanted to know if the play was historically accurate. Yes, it was.
‘I am sure it touched lots more strings in me, but what do you think about it?’ I asked them.
‘We loved it. It’s very good and cleverly put in the house that connects it all,’ the couple replied at once and the lady continued, ‘Is also that about the British at the end of WWII true?’
‘Yes, it is. We call it Bleiburg because the British turned down the Croats, who tried to flee at the end of the war, and returned them to the Partisans by the town of Bleiburg. Among the refugees, there were many who were not involved in the war at all, just frightened with what was to come, but they lost their lives anyway.’
‘The absurdity of all the wars,’ she replied.
Yes, 3 Winters is yet one more story put in the context of the historical events that saw two wars and many lives lost in different ways. Some characters died, some were lost psychologically, never to get up and live properly, but some adapted well to the new circumstances. This is how it always goes. We all try to cope with the big events that shape our history, but some of us are more and some less successful in it. Some are forever wounded, some are bitter, like Dubravka Ugrešić seems to be in her comment within the program, some nurture the hater and some go on living their lives and hope that one day the pacifists and people with big hearts will prevail. Shall we ever manage to learn from history? Probably not, but there is always the beauty of theatre to hide within.