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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Lyttelton)


  Adrian Rawlins and Charlotte Beaumont/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Just when you thought the festive season had arrived, the National Theatre brings us crashing down to earth with an unseasonal jolt of reality in its impressive staging of a new play by Tina Stivicic, a Croatian playwright hitherto unknown to me (and, outside Croatia, to almost everyone else). It’s called 3 Winters and covers the last 70 years of her country’s turbulent history.

Though historical familiarity isn’t essential, some background knowledge is necessary, especially as Stivicic plays fast and loose with chronology, jumping back and forth between three separate periods of time.

Apart from a brief opening scene in an office, the setting is a family home in Zagreb. It’s 1945. The war is over. Tito and communism are in power, and the displaced Rose (Jo Herbert), her husband Alexander (Alex Price) and baby Masha are given permission to take up residence in a large house that once belonged to aristocrats, which they share with a family upstairs.

Cut to 1990. Rose has died. Masha (Siobhan Finneran) – who is now 45 – is living with her history teacher husband, Vlado Kos (Adrian Rawlins), her elderly father (James Laurenson), their two daughters Alisa, aged 15 (Bebe Sanders) and Lucia, aged 12 (Charlotte Beaumont), Masha’s sister and her husband (Lucy Black and Daniel Flynn) and a 92-year-old woman called Karolina (Hermione Gulliford), the original owner of the Kos household. The years of communism are over and Yugoslavia is in tatters.

The third time scale is 2011. In the most domestic of the three sequences, Masha is the family lynchpin, forever trying to reconcile the ideological differences that have chiseled a chasm between the practical Lucia (Sophie Rundle), now 33 and about to marry a shady businessman her family dislikes, and 36-year-old Alisa (Jodie McNee), a sexually ambivalent victim of domestic abuse who has been studying for a PhD in London. Politically, Croatia is about to enter the EU.

Despite the vast number of years the play covers, there isn’t much plot and it is only towards the end of the evening that something dramatic, other than political upheaval, occurs. Lucia’s fiancé is, with her approval, about to purchase the Kos house and evict the other families living there. It’s a move forward, says the practical Lucia. Alisa disagrees. Their climactic confrontation provides the play with one of its best scenes.

For the rest, 3 Winters is an elegiac, at times almost Chekhovian study of a group of strong-minded women whose lives are shaped by the confluence of a violent history and its resulting changes. Despite a plethora of exposition in the first half, not so brief lives are paraded in front of us offering a continuum of time, place and circumstances that shaped and changed a handful of ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

The ensemble performances under Howard Davies’ (as usual) meticulous attention to detail are beyond reproach. The set by Tim Hatley is quietly evocative in its recreation of the changing fortunes of a single household over a 70-year period. I’d also like to give a nod to Jon Driscoll’s cinematic projections, which defuse the initial confusion and place the action in its proper historical and political context. Without these necessary visual aids it would take much more time than it already does to work out what is happening and when.

There’s no instant gratification here. It’s a slow burn that, in the end, sends you home with a lot to think about.


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