More often than not it is the image which lingers the most after a performance that opens up my subsequent points of reflection. In the case of Štivičić’s Croatian-based 3 Winters now playing at the National Theatre until 3 February 2015 there are actually two images that made a lasting impression – one in the opening, the other in closing.
The first was a visually arresting moment in which a woman selected one key from a cupboard hoarding multiple keys to houses repossessed by the 1945 Communist regime. The woman is Rose King (Jo Herbert) and her choice of key unlocks the future for her family: they move into a partitioned property to be shared by different tenants for successive generations to come. In the play the unity of place (the house) is subject to temporal shifts as the drama moves back and forth in time between ‘3 winters’ – 1945, 1990 (and the coming of civil war) and 2011 when Croatia looked to join the EU.
In closing, director Howard Davies captured the enduring political tensions and struggles by foregrounding Rose’s granddaughter, Lucia, who is about to be married, clad in a white wedding dress, pirouetting centre stage like a ballerina in a musical box, while the ensemble variously looked on or took up their partnered dancing positions. It was a brilliantly and evocatively executed moment. The dancing Lucia (Sophie Rundle) embodies the bourgeois, entrepreneurial values which ironically appear to be the only means to save the house (the groom, whom we do not see, is referred to as an anti-humanitarian capitalist, willing to purchase the house at the expense of the other tenants who are forcibly evicted). There is something vaguely reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s ‘kitchen scene’ in Top Girls, the scene in which the class-warfare between Marlene and Joyce ultimately plays out, this given how Lucia’s saving of the house is contested by her unconventional, PhD-studying sister, Alisa (Jodie McNee) – the critical outsider whose studies keep her mainly in England and away from the family home.
From beginning to end it is the generations of women whose stories dominate the stage; the women who from a domestic space tell of the epic, political canvas. I was quite frankly delighted and surprised to find the National staging this piece from a new (to the UK) woman playwright in the Lyttelton space rather than out in the ‘Shed’ (studio). On those terms alone, I was keen that it should succeed. However, I would have to be honest and say that the first half suffered from being overwritten (far too much expositional detail), while the ensemble struggled to get into their stride (especially in the scenes from 1990 as the family gather for Rose’s funeral). Indeed at the interval, there was some hesitation in my party as to whether to return for the second half. We did and were relieved we did: the second half which dramaturgically shifts into the writing of shorter, short-sharp-shock episodes (from domestic abuse to the venting of anger by one of the about-to-be-evicted tenants) really comes to life and the overall political canvas (challenging when you are not on top of all the historical-political detail) falls more fully into place. On balance, 3 Winters left me wanting to see more work by Štivičić on the British stage.