“I no longer understand this world – now trust is seen as stupidity, compassion is weakness, and solidarity means you’re unable to look after yourself.” So laments the daughter of a communist partisan about to see her own child marry an unscrupulous businessman in Tena Štivičić’s moving new play at the Lyttleton Theatre.
3 Winters follows four generations of women living in the same house in Zagreb through three pivotal moments in recent Croatian history: the re-formation of Yugoslavia under Tito in 1945, its bloody breakdown in 1990 and Croatia’s entry into the EU in 2011. The politics weaves in and out of the plot, creating a labyrinthine mess of history behind each character’s decisions, as principles are confronted by bitter realities.
Like Jung Chang with Wild Swans, Štivičić presents the unique challenges faced by women amid extreme political and social turmoil. Drawing on her own family history, she highlights both the vulnerabilities and capabilities of women doing their best to shape their own and their children’s lives in an oppressively patriarchal society – here as communism becomes capitalism, public becomes private, and former values are left shattered behind.
The drama is centred on the house – built by an aristocratic family, partitioned and nationalised under the communists, it is allocated to the daughter of a disgraced servant girl, and now bought in its entirety by her great-granddaughter’s nouveau-riche fiancée. Tim Hatley’s design simply but deftly transforms as the story alternates between decades, and archive footage projected during scene changes help contextualise the accompanying political changes.
Sophie Rundle is brutal as the bride-to-be, displaying a devastating emotion in the final scenes worthy of the complicated nuances of her character, but it is the supporting actors that drive this production. White-haired James Laurenson and the young Charlotte Beaumont add a moving touch of honesty to the ideological polemic, which can at times feel somewhat like an over-worded history lesson.
For British audiences, however, such a lesson is needed. There is a moment during one of the scene changes where the news footage displays a dismembered and bloodied body lying amid the rubble of a destroyed house. On its feet, immediately recognisable, is a pair of Nike trainers. To those of us for whom Yugoslavia is an unfamiliar archaism, those trainers are a stark reminder of how recent – and how close – this tragic history really is.
3 Winters is on at Lyttleton Theatre until February 3rd 2015, for further information or to book visit here.