by Bernardo Stella.
Pentameters Theatre 28 Heath Street/Oriel Place Hampstead NW3 6TE To 26 January 2014.
Tue-Sat 8pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 January
Skilful depiction of rising brutality and the youthful hope of love.
There’s no designer credit for this production, where Pentameters’ stage is surrounded by black boards. Bernardo Stella’s mid-1990s play, receiving its premiere, is set in 1992 Sarajevo – a city once gateway between East and West, now fragmented as long-suppressed resentments erupt into violence and ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Neighbours Ahmed and Cosic, Muslim and Serb, quarrel about the tree which commemorates Ahmed’s forebears but which Cosic claims is threatening his house. They can’t agree but still talk as neighbours.
At the root of matters is Cosic’s son Nikola using the branches to climb towards Muslim Esad’s bedroom. Romeo, Juliet and balconies come to mind, but the play’s sole Shakespearean reference is, aptly, to the colder world of Troilus and Cressida.
Erupting gunfire shocks neither man. Violence becomes more insistent, spreading its roots through a society where youth is first seen at the liberal university, then as balaclavad killers. When Nikola recognises one by his voice there’s a stark moment as the former friend describes the family deaths that have made him a killer.
The national enmities of Troilus and family pressures of Romeo combine. Esad’s mother had to argue with her husband to let their daughter go to uni. Now she sees the girl’s return home as a rescue from liberalism; both parents praise Omar, the respectable husband they’ve chosen for her.
There’s variable acting in Will Seaward’s production, but Fahad Saman’s Omar forcefully portrays Omar as respectful citizen, who likes to be certain of his ground, and threateningly violent when his certainties are disturbed, politeness replace by an angled, narrowed stare.
He’s no companion for Natalie Anson’s Esad, who moves from shock at the opening kissing-game, where the lovers-to-be are appropriately blindfolded, to joyous passion. As the mothers, Zovina Haden and Julia Faulkner create mutual sympathy amid the widening divisions.
But the play remains its own best advocate. A local restaurateur, Stella calibrates destruction through the increasing scarcity of food, while the fates of the lovers – seen at the start – is eventually described by Anthony Cord’s choric UN peacekeeper in appalling contrast to the statues promised for Shakespeare’s young lovers.
Ahmed: Jethro Dykes.
Mira: Zovina Haden.
Brankovic: Anthony Cord.
Omar: Fahad Salman.
Bedun: Daniel Sawicki.
Nikola: Alex Khanyaghma.
Esad: Natalie Anson.
Cosic: Chris Panayi.
Amira: Julia Faulkner.
Director: Will Seaward.
Sound: Steve Culhane.