GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI SPENDS THREE MOVING WINTERS IN WAR-TORN CROATIA
3 Winters takes us to the beautiful old Kos family house in Zagreb, Croatia, in three different years: 1945, 1990, and 2011. In a series of the slickest scene changes I have ever seen, different years are defined by different decor in the house, as the characters come and go, grow up and die, are born and get married, all while trying to come to terms with some terrible experiences and betrayals, personal and political. Štivičić, focusing on the house, is really telling two stories: the life of one family, and the history of Croatia’s bloody upheavals. As the play unfolds, we realise that the two are inextricably linked: that this family exists in spite of, but also because of, the war. In 1945, the house is requisitioned by Tito’s Communists and given (in part) to Rose King (a supremely poised Jo Herbert); by 2011, on the brink of joining the EU, capitalists like the unseen man soon to marry Lucia (an excellent Sophie Rundle) have amassed enough money to start buying others out, scrupulously or unscrupulously. Croatia has evolved; the family has evolved; and everybody’s identity is in crisis.
Amid all the hurly burly of a very busy plot, operating in three different time periods simultaneously while working towards a denouement which illuminates all three, a few superbly poignant moments stand out. One is a harrowing soliloquy from Alexander King (James Laurenson) telling how he had to abandon his horse in a vain attempt to escape Croatia in 1945, only to be marched helplessly past it two days later, captured by Partisans, as it stood starving. Allegorical or literal, it is shattering. Marko (Gerald Kyd) describes the agonising guilt of a soldier with PTSD in another tough, memorable moment which had the tears pouring down my cheeks. Štivičić can be uncompromisingly raw when occasion demands: elsewhere, her warm instinct for humour shines, particularly through Masha’s marriage to Vlado (a dynamic, endearing Adrian Rawlins) in their touchingly ironic exchanges (“I always admired you.” “Did you? Inconspicuously, I must say!”).
Štivičić’s characterisation is deft and clever. We have two very fine Karolinas: beautiful and troubled in her younger days (Hermione Gulliford), elegant and stately in later years (a fabulous Susan Engel). Alisa, soft and quiet in youth (Bebe Sanders) becomes spiky and defiant in later years (Jodie McKnee), though still lonely and confused. Masha, the dowdy matriarch (a nicely understated Siobhan Finneran) makes perhaps the most fascinating journey of all, realising that she has been put upon all her life, grieving, and finally accepting.
Director Howard Davies shapes all of this into a compelling drama, though his use of regional English accents for most characters (predominantly Yorkshire) tends to disorientate the piece, rather than locating it securely. Video projections (including some very shocking scenes of war) punctuate each scene: Štivičić’s ultimate message seems to be how we are human despite war, even though war can (and does) make us inhuman at times: the human journey of this family is, ultimately, what wins out.
– Charlotte Valori
National Theatre, until 3 February. Box office: 020 7452 3000