3 Winters Charts The Hard History Of A House in Zagreb

By Neil Dowden Last edited 113 months ago

Last Updated 05 December 2014

3 Winters Charts The Hard History Of A House in Zagreb ★★★★☆ 4

The company of 3 Winters. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

3 Winters, the new play from London-based Croatian writer Tena Štivičić, is a powerful account of her native country’s tumultuous post-war history as reflected through four generations of one family and their house in Zagreb.

It’s an ambitious work that packs a lot in, but the story is compelling and made all the more engaging for being told through the lives of one family. Occasionally the exposition seems intended for the audience’s benefit rather than for the characters interacting on stage, but overall writer Štivičić skilfully avoids turning the play into a history lesson by personalising the experiences, with particularly strong female roles.

The drama moves seamlessly back and forth between three crucial periods: the end of the Second World War in 1945 when the Communist partisans took over from the fascist regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany; the 1990 break-up of Communist Yugoslavia as newly independent Croatia is on the verge of descending into savage civil war with Serbia; and 2011, when as a fully capitalist country beset by corrupt politicians and black marketeers, Croatia is about to join the European Union.

The three dates of the action are also landmarks for this particular family: respectively, their move into the previously aristocrat-owned home; the funeral of the grandmother who was mysteriously given the house; and the wedding of the youngest daughter whose husband has bought it by dubious means. This is a close-knit family, whose impassioned arguments about the right way to live can quickly slide into open conflict and even violence — a microcosm of the nation at large.

Howard Davies’s assured direction maintains the tension, while Tim Hatley’s clever design uses a moving wall to mark the three eras and focus on different rooms in the house. Jon Driscoll’s projections of black and white newsreel showing ruined buildings and mutilated bodies also make a strong impression.

This communal drama is very much an ensemble piece without leading characters, and the performances are all excellent. Siobhan Finneran gives a sympathetic portrayal of a long-suffering home-maker, Adrian Rawlins is amusingly didactic as her academic husband, while Jodie McNee is their spikily independent older daughter escaped to London and Sophie Rundle is the high-spirited bride with hidden steel. James Laurenson is the grandfather haunted by guilty memories of the war, and Susan Engel plays the original mistress of the house who nostalgically recalls the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before Yugoslavia even existed.

By Neil Dowden

3 Winters is on at the Lyttelton, Royal National Theatre until 3 February. Tickets are £15–£50. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.