KOSOVO THEATRE REVIEWS
Reviewed by Delvis Bejleri
It seemed to me that the main theme in this show was forbidden love in a rotten system in which the individual was valued only for their labour.
In this adaptation of the novel by George Orwell by director Igor Mendijsky, the figure of “Big Brother” illustrated the concept of being constantly observed and the use of brainwashing by the state. For me, one of the most impressive aspects of the production, was the director's treatment of the author's presence within their own narrative. George Orwell was there on stage throughout, performed by a woman, Arta Selimi, which gave us the idea that even though an author dies, he still continues creating, in this case through the transforming of a book into a theatre play. It also shows Orwell’s suffering during the creating process, bringing another dimension to the show.
The figure of the leader, played by the actor Adrian Morina, dominates the show. At the beginning of the play, he came across as TV presenter, making the piece feel current and accessible to the public. He then becomes a collaborator in the tasks given to the other actors and finally he transforms into an "intellectual monster".
Winston, played by the actor Ylber Bardhi, on the other hand, was the personification of freedom in this darkness system in which they live, but knowing Bardhi's work, I thought he was having a hard time with this character. In my opinion, his struggle was noticeable because he mostly plays comical roles and is well suited to comedy as a performer. As a result, Morina comes to feel like the main character because he is confident in this particular role of leader.
Winston's lover Julia, played by Flaka Latifi, was a strong, rebellious character and Latifi clearly transmitted Julia's desire to live her life as she wanted, regardless of the circumstances in which they found themselves or the approach of those around them. The feelings and emotions Latifi exhibited during the performance felt sincere and organic.
What was noticeable to me during the show was a lack of rhythm. Often it felt to me as the performers confused the tempo with the rhythm. This sense of rhythm is necessary in order not to lose the focus or attention of the public and often it was lost. As director Mendjisky, may be blamed for this issue, but this shouldn't detract from his significant work. For me, it was the time period shifts and the use of the camera which made this show remarkable.
The interaction between performers and the audience, taking personal information from the public and recording them, felt unnecessary. It was a great symbol of being observed by the government but this interaction felt jarring, more like something you would encounter in ‘stand up’. In contrast, the symbolism of the character dressing as a pig, showing opposition to the orders given by the government hit much harder - it was a creative approach to this topic.
The way the performance showed Orwell's creative process and showed how her suffering was coherent with the suffering of the characters, was also worthy and interesting. It allowed us to feel the struggle that Orwell faced to create the masterpiece 1984.
Director: Igor Mendjisky//Scenographer: Mentor Berisha//Costume: Yllka Brada//Compser: Trimor Dhomi//Video: Yannik Donet//Translated by: Urim Nerguti
Actors: Flaka Latifi, Ylber Bardhi, Adrian Morina, Arta Selimi, Basri Lushtaku, Edona Reshitaj, Shpejtim Kastrati and Xhejlane Godanci.
Review by Manushaqe Ibrahimi
Written and brought to life by Lirak Çelaj, Arbri draws its inspiration from the film 'The Father,' by French playwright and film-maker Florian Zeller. Not only did it bring to light the challenges that individuals face when dealing with dementia but also shed light on political social issues.
Throughout the performance, a significant emphasis was placed on repetition and changes in the setting, which to me appeared to serve as a metaphor for Arbri's gradual mental deterioration, masterfully portrayed by Shkumbin Istrefi.
While the storyline engrosses the audience, a unique perspective emerges, as, at times, it's the daughter, the caretaker, and other characters who seem more bewildered than Arbri himself. This twist in perception underscores the notion that, often, to a person struggling with mental health problems, those who appear 'normal' may seem 'crazy.' This seems to be the director's intention—a mind game played on the audience rather than the characters.
The show started with music, like a radio that interferes with frequencies and not one song would play until the end. Almost giving us a warning that nothing is stable with the main character. It felt a lot like a loop happening inside of the main character's head, like too many versions of realities shifting into each other, and him not being able to process any of them.
You could see that in his reaction when Ana, his daughter would tell him that she’s going to live abroad. However, the time in which he points out that’s always the same serves as an anchor for him knowing that he’s still standing in one of those realities.
The recurring time of 11:55 is accompanied by Arbër's fixation on his watch and his inquiries about the' watches of others, possibly hinting at the watch being a cherished gift from a loved one, possibly his "deceased" daughter or wife, whose existence still provokes me, though I find it quite smart that they were not present. This enigmatic aspect continues to engage the audience, leading to questions about the wife's status – is she alive or not? Furthermore, doubts arise about Lule, the absent daughter – is she truly deceased, a war veteran, or another manifestation of Arbër's imagination?
Besides dealing with dementia as a sickness, the show really tried to highlight the troubles of relatives dealing with the condition, which, especially in Kosovo for some reason, remains a lingering stigma. To this day people feel ashamed telling others if someone in their family is suffering from this illness.
Qëndresa Jashari, who portrayed Ana, Arbër's daughter, adeptly conveyed the numerous problems she grappled with while caring for her father, including issues that strained her personal relationships and the financial burdens that exacerbated the situation. An element that got stuck with me, was when Ana starts to drink wine with her significant other and then starts crying, capturing a perfect interpretation of her feeling as she’s losing control, trying to find a sparkle of hope that things will get better, but deep down she knows that the situation only gets worse.
An important moment in the performance occurred when Arbri was admitted to a nursing home for the elderly and had an interaction with a nurse. This scene brought to mind a similar real-life incident that took place in Kosovo some time ago. While it initially seemed like Arbri might be starting to feel like a burden to others, this scene raised important questions regarding the effectiveness and ethical considerations of elder care facilities. As Arbri interacted with the nurse, it also exposed deeper, unresolved traumas, particularly related to the war. There were instances where he expressed anger in both Serbian and Turkish, suggesting that he was reliving certain unpleasant moments of his life. This situation prompts reflection on the numerous individuals who may be silently suffering from unaddressed traumas because they ignore the symptoms simply because of what people may think of them.
These roles were executed exceptionally by the actors portraying them, however while the role of Petrit/Agron, portrayed by Labinot Raci, at times felt somewhat contrived. Nonetheless, I feel like his character was intentionally designed not to be universally likable, and it presented a challenging role to perform.
Also, the play addressed a wider social-political issue when Ana sought financial assistance, citing her father's military service and the fact that he was the father of a fallen soldier. The response, "So what, are we supposed to give all the funds and money to them?" drew attention to the unsettling treatment of veterans and war invalids.
The ensemble of actors delivered a cohesive performance that harmoniously followed the narrative's rhythm. The play's dynamism is enhanced by the flexibility of scenography, which makes efficient use of props. The clever injection of humor, addressing profound societal issues without making the audience uncomfortable, adds to the play's appeal. These moments of humor resonate with the everyday jokes that many of us have heard from our own fathers and grandfathers. Nevertheless, it's crucial to remember that the underlying theme is not a jest; it pertains to an illness that demands greater awareness, understanding of its symptoms, and increased support for those affected.
Text/director: Lirak Çelaj
Cast: Shkumbin Istrefi, Qëndresa Jashari, Labinot Raci, Daniela Markaj, Blend Sadiku
Stage: Burim Arifi
Lighting: Yann Perregaux Dielf, Bujar Bekteshi
Review by Florida Kastrati
Qendra Multimedia at Teatri Oda, Prishtina, premiere 16th October 2023
This play took me on a journey from the beginning. Or perhaps it is more accurate to call it a quest, for meaning, answers. The appearance of a huge panda mascot at the start of the play initially gave me a warm feeling. Pandas are peaceful creatures after all .
Negotiating Peace, a new international co-production from Kosovo-based company Qendra Multimedia, is written by Jeton Neziraj and directed by his usual collaborator Blerta Neziraj. Its pan-European cast and creative team is made of artists from Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Italy, Czechia, Albania, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Norway, Poland and Estonia.
As is usually the case in work which is directed by Blerta Neziraj, as soon as the panda left the stage, the mood of the scene shifted into a dark, but surprisingly thrilling atmosphere. General Amadeus, played by Shkumbin Istrefi, was searching for the bones of a dead colonel called Colonel Z, a plotline inspired by Ismail Kadare’s book The General of the Dead Army, one of two texts from which the show takes its inspiration. The other is To End a War by American negotiator Richard Holbrooke, who believed that one sometimes has to use force, if necessary, in the service of peace.
The General appeared to be at a burial site looking for glory in the form of bones. “To us he was a hero, to your side a villain, I suppose”, he said when he asked people if they know anything about the subject of the search.
These filmic scenes, which are interspersed throughout the play, were intricately designed and could easily keep the audience hooked. (In fact in the play, the General dreams of a Hollywood film being made to glorify his actions).
These scenes were contrasted with those taking place over the negotiating table between members of two fictitious countries Unmikistan and Banovina, the first one being a pun on UNMIK - United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
Madera, from the Republic of Banovina, sits across from Daniella, from Republic of Unmikistan as they try to reach an agreement about the Green Valley. They are accompanied in these meetings by Joe Robertson, the American emissary to the UN, General Amadeus and Maria, a civil society activist, though no one seemed sure what she would be able to contribute.
Jeton Neziraj uses these fictious countries to shed light on the continually failing negotiations processes between our two countries, Kosovo and Serbia, though his research goes further and encompasses Bosnia too, the play having greater resonance in light of the wars in Ukraine and Russia and, now, Palestine and Israel.
In 1995, Holbrooke was instrumental in creating the Dayton Agreement between the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, and Neziraj looks to be calling for another Holbrooke in the case of Kosovo and Serbia.
The cast, which consists of local and international actors, worked well together in the development of the scenes, and had a chemistry which they deployed effectively to the audience. However, at times, it wasn’t all that clear who the characters represented around the table, though one could get the gist of their opposing views. And the dialogue, while often amusing, was not very easy to follow, particularly because of the mixture of English
Having said this, the overall drama is complex in the way it recreates some of the dynamics of the peace agreement process in the imagination of its audience.
“THERE IS NO PEACE WITHOUT AN APLOGY” is projected above the negotiating table at one point. This says a lot about how these discussions, held inside locked rooms and behind closed doors, ironically lack the experiences, stories and traumas of the real people who have lived through war.
Though this is a serious topic, the play also contains some comic moments designed to make the audience giggle. Though the play is long it keeps feeding you with new ideas so it never becomes boring. Often it surprises the audience. Who would expect a short BDSM dance scene in a play in which peace negotiations are being discussed?
It is a play in which you must put the pieces together and it leaves one free to look for the answers and reflect on its themes on your own.
It is also interesting and typical of the play’s writer and director, to make the drama interactive with audience, in a way that leads into an after-the-play discussion or healthy and necessary debate both within the audience and the wider community.
Though I was unclear who he was at first, the inclusion of an academic, Aidan Hehir, in the play to give his professional comment on the Kosovo-Serbia situation, enhanced the drama and gave it some much needed context about what has been going on in the Balkans lately.
This new dimension in the performance, which lets somebody from the audience be part of the play and give their professional comment on the topic being discussed on stage, connects theatre directly with activism but also highlights how a free and liberal theatre scene can be used to discuss the truths of humanity.
Some might argue it is just theatre, yet by seeing a play like this one can learn more about the approaches to what is happening with peace negotiations around the world than by listening to diplomats talking about peace.
Returning to the panda I mentioned at the start, despite its peaceful appearance, it reminded me of a story from the war. The Panda Café was the name of a coffee bar in Peja, where six young Serbs were killed in 1998. The blame was put on the KL, though many believe these killings were orchestrated by the Serbs, as a pretext for destabilization and to exacerbate the tension between the two nations and locals at that time.
Perhaps, the panda that we saw in the play is still looking for real peace and agreement between these communities. She would never want such crimes to be repeated in the name of a nation. The panda wants to recover from the trauma that has been caused to her, yet politics always gets in the way.
In the context of my country, I would ask: What role should politics or art do in rebuilding trust between a typical Kosovan and a Serb and vice versa? How long will it take for the populations of these two countries to see their counterparts as humans first? The reinterpreting and exploiting of history goes on and on, and so does the quest of those who want to live in peace.
The play is currently on a European tour to Germany, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By: Jeton Neziraj Directed by Blerta Neziraj Actors: Shkumbin Istrefi, Ema Andrea, Harald Thompson Rosentrom, Ejla Bavcic, Martin Kõiv, Melihate Qena, Orest Pastukh Composer Ardo Ran Varres Stage design: Agata Skwarczyńska Costume Designer Blagoj Micevski Choreography Gjergj Prevazi Dramaturg: Mina Milošević Video Besim Ugzmajli Lighting design: Yann Perregaux, Agata Skwarczyńska
Reviewed by Belkisa Zhelegu
What if your memories get messed up, or even worse, what if they disappear? How painful would it be not to remember who you are? Dementia, as both a tragic illness and a loss of self over time, are the two key elements of the show Arbri inspired by Florian Zeller's film The Father.
Through complex scenes, director and adaptor Lirak Çelaj gave the public a view of how an individual turns into a 'nobody' when dementia affects his brain. In essence, the show has a very simple plot. It tells the story of an elderly widower, a war survivor, and his eldest daughter who is facing the big dilemma of whether to stay in Kosovo to take care of her sick father or continue her life abroad. Even though the play is focused on this dilemma, its narrative and structure are like a reverse puzzle: where the whole picture slowly deforms, in the same way as Arbri's identity. This is also true of the production’s set changes and the marvelous way in which Arbri’s house is transformed into an asylum… piece by piece, creating the atmosphere of a memory game.
The play's adaptation for a Kosovar reality, indirectly hitting the government policies for the war’s survivors but at the same time judging people’s mass "dementia" for the macabre events during the war - the young doctor / the girl's husband mocked Arbri every time he mentioned being a honored soldier - were two very strong points of the show, opening up another dimension of the text.
Another painful issue raised by the show is violence against the frail, as we see the violence of the nurse in the asylum against the old man. The old man's illness had made him forget that one of his daughters died in the war and he constantly wants to contact her, while he occasionally scolds his other daughter, the one who is taking care of him, by comparing her attitude to his dead wife in a negative way.
His relationship with his wife could have been developed more deeply, since the partner can sometimes (though not necessarily) play an essential role in overcoming the other partner's traumas. Small fragments let the audience understand that there was a lack of communication between them, but it is still not enough to clearly understand how Arbri had reached this critical state and how much influence the relationship with her wife or her death had on him.
Also, his displeasure with the caretakers that the daughter employed shows quite clearly his need to have his family close to him, and if one of the daughters had died and the other daughter was quite busy, then his only family would have been his wife, so the show seems truncated without the dead wife being discussed or evoked in any scene. Even at the end of the play, when the old man loses it completely, he calls out to his mother, a sign that his identity is destroyed and as a small child he needs his mother to remind him who he is.
Although the scene is quite painful, there should have been a growing exponent to bring him to this stage, At first, he didn't want a nurse or a caretaker but only his daughters; at one point he had to need his wife, and finally when he realizes that every person in this world stays with you for some interest, he looks for the mother who loves you unconditionally.
Within the framework of the play, the main dilemma of the daughter to take her father to a nursing home was an even bigger drama than her father's illness. This dilemma seems to have affected her romantic relationships as well. Perhaps her father often forgot the fact that she was divorced because he felt somehow guilty and a burden on her. Although the performance of Shkumbin Istrefi in the role of the father was impressive, the acting of the father -daughter relationship was generally organic, but in some cases the two performers lacked an emotional connection with each other; and this fact affected in the old man’s interpretation, sometimes finding himself enforcing/ imposing the emotion.
Also, in my view, the show's rhythm needed to be faster because, apart from the fact that there were many repetitive scenes, the scenes had to come faster in order not to become tiring for the audience.
One phrase was mentioned often and deliberately during the show, "this disease has no improvement, on the contrary, it will get worse". The clock, which always marked 11:55 A.M. throughout the show, was an indicator of how the father's condition did not change or improve, but simply went back to point 0, regardless of the efforts of the daughter, the caregivers or the doctors. And the fact that he often blamed others for stealing his watch served as a parallel for his inferiority to others, trying to blame them for the strange situations that were happening to him.
Regardless of the fact that the end is sad, it serves to enforce the main idea of not creating illusions in curing the disease, but the lack of communication addressed during the show is a strong alarm to remind the audience how delicately such situations should be handled and the importance of the role of family.
Reviewed by Mirela Gracanac
Who is our son?
Imagine that you have a close family member whose sexual orientation you cannot understand, that you cannot find a way to deal with or to accept. The play Our Son shows how this problem is (not) solved.
Our Son is about a family that suffers from the excessive influence of social constructs, especially common the Balkans. It is the story of a gay son who finds and accepts himself, but his parents struggle to do the same. The play's author Patrik Lazić brings many autobiographical elements into the story,
Entering the space where the performance will take place, I get the impression that there is no stage to represent a limited space for the realization of the story. In front of me I see furniture, dishes on the table, TV. It is as if I stepped out of my own and into someone else's home, with a completely similar living room. Before the beginning and during the performance, the actors - Dragana Varagić, Aleksandar Đinđić and Amar Ćorović - sit in the audience, which makes the atmosphere extremely intimate. The consequence of the removal of barriers between the stage and those who are observers of the events on it is the direct interaction with the audience - the audience becomes not only someone who learns about the family's past, but also someone who relives it together with the actors.
The play begins with a scene between the father and the mother in which they discuss the problem they have and their attempt to solve that problem. Lunch is ready and waiting, but are mother and father ready to welcome their son?
The emotional chaos that prevails on the stage before he arrives and the vicissitudes that arise when he arrives, culminate in a conflict that becomes intractable judging by the play's ending.
This early part, without the son on stage, is built on the template of a failed couple from the Balkans. While the mother is sick and awaiting surgery, the father is going through a mid-life crisis with a younger wife, dying his hair and wearing a youthful wardrobe inappropriate for his age. The parents do not understand each other, and this rift between them does not allow them to understand their son. They try to find the to the question of why he is the way he is through trivial literature from the field of popular psychology, in a book which says that homosexuality is a disease and a disorder that can be cured. That the mother and father lack the power to understand each other is captured in a single moment: they are arguing, but they are not facing each other.
The son returns from abroad. The mother and father believe that they have managed to find ways to make him into the son they want and to resolve all the disagreements that arose in the past. What we actually see following the son's appearance on stage is his ironic playing with their superficial attempts to approach him.
The book by Richard Cohen that was supposed to help them to solve their "problem" becomes the son's tool for confronting his parents with the reality that they should accept.
It is interesting that in the past they reacted completely different to the uniqueness and differences in their son's behaviour, for example, while the father resented his wish to wear women's clothes sometimes, the mother did not see anything wrong in it. In the end, however, they find themselves in the same position: they want to heal their son, not simply love him. One of the ways they refuse to accept their son is that they don't want to call his partner Nikola by his name, instead they stay in their comfort zone in which Nikola is just their son's roommate.
The performance is meta-theatrical, and the actors themselves hint at it: at one point, Dragana Varagić, as the mother, even says that she will not play in it anymore. It seems to me that with this device the director is referring to the parents' conviction that they are in a situation they cannot control, a situation in which they are puppets in the story. Two things are emphasized by this: the parents do not want to accept their son and his choices, and yet he is not a victim in this situation because he has managed to accept himself and live his life exactly the way he wants.
The attitude that the parents and the son take during the play changes according to the development of the story. Although the parents initially have the impression that they have the situation under control and that the plans they have for their son will succeed, with his appearance on the scene, he slowly takes control. With the emotional pressure they experience, they fail to keep a calm tone: the mother screams because she was never a good enough wife and because she was perhaps too good a mother, the son knocks over the salad bowl not because he is losing control of his behaviour but because he wants to interrupt their absurd arguments and show them precisely that control is in his hands. What is clear is the father's position in this situation: the greater condemnation from the son belongs to him.
The main defence mechanism becomes humour with which he tries to overcome mistakes from the past, as well as those he is making now. While the mother and father use humour to avoid accepting the truth, the son uses it to bring the truth to the surface, with a lot of irony and sarcasm.
What cannot be overlooked is that the son is actually the one in control of the whole situation. At the very beginning of the play, before the beginning of the dialogue, he turns on the lights aimed at the stage, and at the very end turns them off. Reminiscences of the past become a play by itself directed by the son, like Shakespeare's plays within a play, in which the audience gets the roles assigned to them by the son and relives the painful past of this family.
At the very end, something like a twist happens, but not in the true sense of the word. Then it only becomes clear to us that everything they talked aboutit had the function of showing the parents who their son is. He lied to them that Nikola came with him from America, but they only found out after they resolutely refused to receive him in the house. With this, the emotional gap between parent and son becomes unbridgeable - he leaves them broken because they have fallen into the trap of their own delusion, and he leaves satisfied that he managed to make a breakthrough in their understanding, but with a bitter taste in his mouth because it had to be done that way.
Produced b: Heartefact Fund//Written and directed by: Patrik Lazić // With: Dragana Varagić, Aleksandar Đinđić, Amar Ćorović
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
A Tale of Two (or More) Albanians
And just like that, I went to prison. It was an act of my own volition, for prison is where this play was set. Not only is Death Hour set in prison, it is also performed in a former prison, recently turned into the Prison Museum of Prishtina. An intimidating environment for showcasing one’s art that almost felt like a dare.
Setting and ambiance can be everything in a play, the hook that grabs one’s attention as a theatregoer. I usually take my time diving in, revelling in the atmosphere. But on this occasion, I had no time to adjust – the use of the space, with the audience sat in the prison yard, surrounded by high brick wall and bars. was brutally direct, captivating, and compelling.
As the inmates enter the yard, I can almost the taste of metal, feel the barbwire, the tin cans, handcuffs and pliers. Suddenly, there is loud cackling and smashing, followed by a string of complaints from one particular inmate about how he has not been recently beaten by the guards “Am I no longer relevant?” he quips. Perhaps.
The prisoners are political. The same is true of their crimes. And, as luck would have it, so are their names: Fatmir from Kosova and Fatmir from Albania (fatmir means ‘the lucky one’ in Albanian). “Some luck, eh?” they chuckle tearfully at one point, as they hug on the prisoner exchange bridge between Albania and Kosovo… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me supply some context. It is the 1980s and communist Albania is going about its normal business of imprisoning folk who so much as breathe or eat wrong. In communist Kosovo, then still part of Yugoslavia, Albanians are being politically persecuted by the Serbian regime. One Fatmir has fled Albania to escape Enver Hoxha’s callous regime and has been captured by Serbian military. His namesake has fled Kosova to escape Serbian oppression and to see the “great leader who will unite all Albanians”, as he puts it enthusiastically, before being captured by the Albanian border police. The mutual misperceptions between the two men are baffling, despite the proximity of the two places. The ardour of the Kosovar Fatmir is juxtaposed with the exasperation of the Albanian Fatmir, as both men try and fail to make the other one understand.
Paradoxically, both are sent back in a prisoner exchange process which, to my mind, is the pinnacle of the play. Adrian Morina brings an almost unreal eagerness to his role as Fatmir from Kosovo, a man fiercely in love with his idealistic vision of beautiful Albania and its vigorous leader. At the same time, Arben Derhemi is remarkable in his depiction of Fatmir from Albania and his double drama: suffering under communism and having to explain it to a fellow Albanian. Both find themselves in a kind of surreal no man’s land and neither of them can make sense of it.
Albulena Kryeziu-Bokshi brilliantly portrays a school teacher with the soul of a poet, blamed for the ‘apple’ of discord. Arrested for acknowledging that the apple she bought at the farmers’ market was bad, she is put on trial where the presiding judge (once again played by Arben Derhemi) gives an extraordinary impersonation of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. His voice, stance, and overall persona brings back chilling memories to those who lived in Hoxha’s time, the self-righteousness and ruthlessness of it all being all too striking.
Next comes a scene of torture, a staple of the communist prison system that spares no one. A man is being electrocuted for having seen the dictator’s infected mouth in a dream. It is a scene worthy of George Orwell. He spits blood and barely manages to ask: “How do you even know about my dream?” “We know everything”, giggles the torturer in response, as the executioner proceeds with his craft and fills out the necessary paperwork.
The scene then shifts to the Dubrava prison in Kosovo, where Albanian prisoners are mistreated, beaten, and starved. After being lured out into the prison yard, under the false pretence of their upcoming release, the prisoners are shot in cold blood by the Serbian military. The real-life event took place in May 1999, where Dubrava prison was the scene of an unprecedented massacre. On that fateful day, hundreds of Albanian prisoners were killed and wounded, while countless others were taken away and never heard from again.
The small cast of actors shifted flawlessly from one role to the other, complete with immaculate Gheg and Tosk dialects mastered to perfection. Attaining the level of accent, pitch, tone and stress of a native speaker of either dialect is a challenge to be reckoned with. Seasoned actor Kushtrim Sheremeti does a commendable job in this regard, and the nuance he adds to his roles is outstanding.
As these stories unfolded before the audience, who are sat in the prison yard under a starry October sky, the ghosts of communisms past came alive in more ways than one. ‘Communisms’ is not an error. Albania and Kosovo had different communisms and misled perceptions due to the propaganda machine of the time. This is illustrated by the extent of misconstructions in Kosovo about the state of things in Albania, where the government ruled with an iron fist, while Albanians in Kosovo believed that Albania lived with a ‘golden spoon to its mouth’. Nevertheless, one sentence helps to get some clarity. “You are being terrorized by Serbs, but we are being terrorized by our own!” – Fatmir from Albania wails at Fatmir from Kosovo at the prisoner exchange point.
As I realized that these are only a few out of countless stories from those dark times, I had newfound appreciation for the writers who picked and put together these accounts. There is no doubt that Ulpianë Maloku and Agnesa Mehanolli did thorough research, including interviews with survivors on both sides of the border. These young writers are very talented at squeezing out salient bits of horror from real life events, but also adding comedic bits to highlight the absurdity of it all. The degree of detail is palpable.
Theatre of the absurd has nothing on Death Hour, as it is too real for comfort. As the play neared its end, black-and-white footage of trials and executions in Albania kept rolling on the back wall, including statistics on the killings, incarcerations, internments and persecutions. Then the names rolled out of prisoners killed at Dubrava prison in Kosovo, as a further wake-up call to this reality of the macabre that unjustly absorbed so much humanity. Three decades of democracy in Albania and two decades of freedom in Kosovo have shown that trauma still lingers. These stories must continue to be shared, because history matters and remembrance is key.
“I never knew these things”, one audience member sitting next to me whispered towards the end of the play.
But I knew them all along. It still feels like yesterday.
Produced by Bokshi Theatre Company & Artpolis
Written by: Ulpianë Maloku & Agnesa Mehanolli // Directed by: Ilir Bokshi // With: Albulena Kryeziu-Bokshi, Kushtrim Sheremeti, Adrian Morina, Arben Derhemi // Costumes: Vesa Kraja // Set design: Bekim Korça // Composer: Memli Kelmendi // Lights: Skënder Latifi
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
“History is hysteria, she is hungry, and her food is all of us”
Husino’s Miner is a mixed-media and multimedia production that marries visuals, sound, and lights around a striking figure created by the contemporary artist Marc Einsiedel. A lot was poured into this 25-minute sensory experience based on events that occurred over a century ago.
The statue of the fighter readying himself for battle stands center stage. In a victorious gesture, he is holding up a rifle in his right hand. He is wearing a miner’s helmet, and a closer look at his left hand reveals he is also holding a pick.
Wrapped in pieces of broken mirror, the figure lights up the place. Like a disco ball, he scatters sparkles all over the theatre, as he sits on a rotating pedestal amid a cloud of flickering silver. Akin to Sufi whirling, the figure's movements are reminiscent of a dancing dervish trying to achieve dharma. In tandem with the visuals, the music is also reminiscent of 1980-es disco era when glitter and shine were en vogue.
The performance certainly added a special touch to the Kosovo Theatre Showcase, the annual cultural event, which brings together theatre producers, writers and critics from all over the world, and which was organized to perfection by Qendra Multimedia, with exciting opportunities for local productions and international guest plays, as well as for theatre people to connect and network. Husino’s Miner stood out, between the plays and panel discussions which took place throughout the week.
As the figure moved in a constant circular motion on its rotating pedestal, there came a ‘boom!’ and a thunderous voice begins to tell a tale over 100 years old. The actor Dražen Pavlović narrates the remarkable story of how the miners of Husino, a village near Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, went on strike and fought for their rights in the 1920s. How they rebelled bravely and selflessly against industrial tyranny and miserable working conditions. How the village and its people were almost completely destroyed by the troops sent to crush the rebellion. The narration in Bosnian brings a down-to-earth and intimate quality to the performance.
The artist who created this piece, Tuzla native Branko Šimić, makes brilliant use of mixed art techniques that serve multiple purposes. The rotating contraption is symbolic of the survivor spirit of Husino under the ever-watching eyes of the miner. He is trying to figure out where and when he belongs, having witnessed the battles of old, the transitions, and the challenges of new.
The broken glass projects the deconstruction of value systems in the past and present, and possibly a splintered warning of future uncertainty. There is a clear post-modern take on the constant flow of life across the human stories that happened around him. The dynamic visuals and quasi-metallic sound of music and narration bring a silvery quality to everything in my head.
The voice continues, profound and powerful, reverberating around the theatre walls. The miner is nostalgic over “good old times”, when everything happened around him: public events, workers’ gatherings, secret kisses of youth. Reflecting on the passage of time, he laments “those who have long perished and died, but also today’s residents of Husino”, drawing a parallel between the joint predicament of past and present.
Though static, he has witnessed transition, immigration, and political tumult. He is puzzled at the unsteady nature of work in modern times, seeing as the former socialist factory buildings around him have been transformed into capitalist business centres. Above all, he wonders about the shift in values and the post-modernist morality of the human soul, due to the fast-paced dynamics of everything and everyone around him. He calls them all “part of my organism”, like the broken mirrors on his body which have been stitched back together to represent shattered reality.
The miner is the hero fallen in battle and reborn, and it becomes clear that everything that happened over the years has been mirrored onto him and back – a literal and metaphorical tool for reflection.
The discourse turns philosophical, as we are told “history is hysteria and she is hungry, she needs food and her food is all of us”. A dazzling realization and an arresting statement. Meanwhile, the unassuming 1980s disco music has been replaced by a dramatic soundtrack with contemporary vibes credited to renowned Bosnian musician Mirza Rahmanović-Indigo, a multi-disciplinary artist and composer. The tune now follows the perpetual circles of the miner’s statue, and sounds continue to dance around him like silver fireflies, almost playful. It appears as if this creature’s journey is a perpetuum mobile of sorts, a stagnant view of the world literally set in monolithic stone. Nevertheless, the evolution of this unusual character is unexpected. Despite all the unanswered questions, he saves the best for last – optimism springs forth along with the realization that he is part of today, hence part of change.
Towards the end, the voice of Dražen Pavlović returned with new elan inviting the audience to come take a selfie with the statue. “Take a photo with me and save it for 100 years. See you in 2122!” the voice roared, as audience members prepared to climb the stage. My photo is on the cloud, and that cloud has a silver lining.
Produced by: JU Muzej Istocne Bosne (Bosnia and Herzegovina) & Krass Kultur Crash
Festival Hamburg & Kampnagel Hamburg (Germany) / Duration: 25 min
Author: Branko Šimić // Statue making: Marc Einsiedel // Music: Mirza Rahmanović-Indigo // Actor: Dražen Pavlović // Assistant author: Alen Šimic // Producer: Ljubiša Veljković // Marketing: Darko Marković // Technical realisation: Dalibor Brkić // Photo and video: Mario Ilić & Mario Stjepić
Reviewed by Mirela Gracanac
Where do women in the Balkans, especially in Kosovo, stand? To reflect the position of women in the region it can be helpful to look elsewhere. Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls was presented as part of the Kosovo Theatre Showcase in a production directed by Skurte Aliu.
Although the play is primarily related to the socio-economic situation in Britain in the 80s of the last century and the appointment of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, Aliu’s staging managed to fit the play into the context of the life of a modern woman and to give an impression of the genesis of women's position in different social roles.
When the protagonist Marlene points a lamp at individuals in the audience at the very beginning of the play, she breaks the barrier and suggests to the audience that the question on stage will be a question for all of us, and not some story from a book that should entertain us.
Top Girls is a play about different women in different times, but also about strong women who managed to overcome the gender roles of the time in which they lived. The character of Marlene, a successful 20th century modern business-woman who has succeeded in a male-dominated business world, holds the story together. The first act brings on stage five women from different historical periods: Isabella Bird, a 19th world traveler and writer, Lady Nijo, who had an extramarital union with the Japanese emperor, and later became a Buddhist nun, Dull Gret, famed as the subject of a painting by Bruegal, Pope Joan, who became a Pope during the Middle Ages, and Patient Griselda, a fictional character from medieval known for her endless patience.
Marlene has received a promotion at her place of work, an employment agency, and decides to invite these five women from five different historical periods to help her celebrate, during which they present their individual stories on stage. This combination of women and their stories, some real and some fictional, show us what it means to be a woman in the 13th century who wants to be educated, or what it means to be a model for a great painter, also evokes certain feelings that Marlene carries within herself. The appearance of these women on stage, the way they present the story, their expressions and demeanour give the impression of the power they have due to their success in overcoming social constraints.
The dance performance that divides the first and the second scene, unites femininity and anger. That opens up the question of how the unity functions in regard to what a woman is and can be, and what is required of her, and what limits her social position. The first scene is a very dynamic presentation of the fate of each of these women, and the expressiveness and enthusiasm with which they present their stories gives this scene a somewhat grotesque charge.
The dance sequence exudes a struggle between femininity and the attitude that the women have while dancing, trying to bring out the unity of the female body on the one hand and a masculine posture and attitude on the other.
After the dance sequence, there is a scene where Marlene comes to visit her sister and her daughter Angie. The entire conversation between these three women is coloured by tension and ambiguity. To understand the play, it is necessary to understand the social positions which Marlene and her sister possess. While Marlene is a woman who refuses to conform to the imperative of social roles even though she has had to pay a price that even a successful businesswoman cannot avoid, her sister is a classic representative of the working class and the domestic mentality. In their discussion, long-buried problems emerge into unfixable deviations.
Although Marlene is the epitome of power and strength throughout the play, at the end we also see her insecurities and regrets regardless of the success she has achieved. This conversation brings the unraveling of family relationships in which the roles of a mother are consciously taken but never fully accepted.
The very end of the play brings a sense of incompleteness, a lack of concrete conclusion - while Marlene drinks another glass of wine, Angie wakes up, and in a somnambulant and almost hypnotized state, several times verbalizes the feeling of fear and chills that overwhelm her. Does such an ending symbolize the constant of a woman's life, in which she, whether successful or not, lives out a predestined life?
It is interesting to note that much of the central scene of the original play – set in Marlene’s employment agency - was omitted from this performance. It seems the director wanted to illustrate deviations that are especially important for the role of Kosovar women, so I can assume that the scenes he focused on were crucial and sufficient to open up and problematize the issue to its limit.
This was the only play by a Western author at the showcase. It is interesting that one of the guests at Marlene's dinner is a Japanese concubine, which could refer to the relations of the West towards the Orient, as well as in the context of the performance of this piece in the Balkans. We can find a connection with the relationship of the West towards the Balkans as a place beyond the boundaries of culture, but with the same problems.
Produced by: Dodona City Theatre of Prishtina and Artpolis//Written by: Caryl Churchill // Directed by: Shkurtë Aliu // With: Donikë Ahmeti, Vjosë Tasholli, Molikë Maxhuni, Zhaneta Xhemajli, Zana Berisha, Blerta Gubetini // Set design: Bekim Korça // Costumes: Arbnor Brahimi // Music: Trimor Dhomi // Choreography: Robert Nuha // Lights: Skënder Latifi
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
At first sight, it felt like a modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among the perpetual frolicking of colors, bodies, sounds and shades, words and shapes waltzed across the stage. Rainbow threads framed the view and pervaded the actors’ outfits.
Positively cheerful, n’est- ce pas? Except this was not a comedy, and it was not Shakespeare. It was a staging of Pas'Humbja (The Afterloss), a recent production directed and written by Florent Mehmeti, co-authored by Lirak Çelaj and Matt Opatrny, a multi-layered account of soul searching and coming to grips with loss, to put it mildly.
This initial sense of disingenuous bliss quickly gave way to something darker, complete with low lights. We felt ourselves sinking deeper into our seats, as the profound anguish of loss and the seeping
grief of longing sprung forth across the characters’ faces and bodies – as the performers constantly vibrated to rhythmic drumbeats.
Several stories were intertwined here. The frenzied swirls of a distressed couple struggling with pangs of guilt over the loss of their beloved child. The sporadic quivers of a man lamenting his departed friend and a woman mourning her departed sanity. The erratic jolts of a girl who has lost her lover, and her static gaze
into the void – the rainbow threads of her messy floor-length tresses seemed an elongated projection of
Simultaneous waves of movement were interrupted by occasional scenes of dialogue, which added awareness and depth to each story, giving us synchronized accounts of pain: the kind of pain that hurts in so many ways and hits each of us differently. And, like us, the excruciating process of each character tripped through agony and denial, clinging on to the memory of lost loves, desperately seeking closure, seeking hope.
One can only hope.
Produced by: Teatri Oda// written by: Florent Mehmeti // Co-authors: Lirak Çelaj & Matt Opatrny // With: Albina Krasniqi, Alketa Sylaj, Arbesa Hysenaj, Ermal Sadiku, Hajat Toçilla, Labinot Raci, Margarita Ukaj, Qëndresa Jashari, Redon Kika, Tahir Beqiri, Zana Berisha // Assistant director: Daniela Markaj // Visual concept and light design: Yann Perregaux // Music: Donika Rudi // Singers: Kaltrina Miftari, Qëndresa Jashari, Zana Berisha // Costumes: Martina Shtufi // Technicians: Mursel Bekteshi, Pajtim Krasniqi, Bujar Bekteshi
Review by Oriada Dajko
The spirit of the place is in the play
It's almost 9 o'clock on a cold evening at the end of October in Pristina. An audience made up of people from many different countries is waiting in the yard of a former prison which has been transformed into the museum "Prison of Ideal", a space in which, according to the information, thousands of prisoners have experienced inhumane treatment. As the audience enter the yard, they encounter prisoners within the cells and their screams accompany them until they find a place to sit. The audience is shocked even before the main play begins.
Death Hour is directed by Ilir Bokshi and written by two female dramatists Ulpianë Maloku and Agnesa Mehanolli who collected many stories of prisoners in dictatorial Albania and Kosovo during the Yugoslavia regime. These stories reflect many scenes of torture, and humiliation of human beings, giving the feeling of terror, but the black humor is the element that makes the play more complex.
Death Hour flows intensely. It features many absurd stories. Could there be anything more absurd than an investigative file with hundreds of pages on a woman who did not like an apple? But in a country like communist Albania where even tastes are controlled by the law, not liking an apple is a serious crime because the regime has convinced people that everything in the country is perfect, and nothing can be refused, not even a rotten apple.
In other scenes, we see characters tortured because they dare to tell people of their dreams, and others because they have done nothing that can be considered a crime, only that the regime needs a victim as innocent as possible to increase the terror and silence in the population.
What stands out is that the actors who play the victims also playing the perpetrators because, in a totalitarian country where evil does not come from outside but from within, it is difficult to distinguish the victim from the perpetrator. All people play at least once in their life the role of the victim, the perpetrator, the spy, and the judge, and so on.
Idealizing life beyond the borders
In one scene, two men with the same bad luck - and with the same name, Fatmir, which in Albanian ironically means “good luck” - happen to cross a border on opposite sides of a bridge. Both of them are Albanians, one from Kosovo and one from Albania, but they know nothing about what is happening in each other’s countries, for the two fugitives, the suffering beyond the border always seems easier to bear than their own. In a narrow space, while arguing, they try changing places. For Fatmir from Albania, it is better to die in the hands of foreign enemies than to know that evil comes from his own people. However, for the Fatmir from Kosovo, it is better to die by the hands of people of his own nation, than to live as a slave. He has only one dream: to see the Albanian dictator, the man who gives hope to the Albanians outside the borders of Albania, therefore every crime made by the Albanian dictatorship is unbelievable to him, or justified in the name of hope. Give him the hope he needs and he will justify everything.
Elements lost in the translation
Although the public didn’t need to know all the context and details of the theatrical piece in order to feel the emotions and appreciate it, some elements that added value to this play were discernable only by the Albanian audience or foreigners who know the Albanian history and language.
Some important elements of the show were contained in the dialogue, in black humor, and in the actors' interpretation. Though the show was performed in Albanian with English subtitles but for those who don’t know the Albanian language, nor the cultural and historical context of the country, part of that black humor was lost in the translation process. Some of this humor is very culturally dependent and some of the audience didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the humor in the dialog in the same way as native speakers.
This can also be said of the actor Arben Derhemi, who in his performance as the judge giving the absurd sentences, imitates the expressions and the voice of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Though Hoxha did not participate directly in the investigations, tortures, or murder of people, every evil came from him or was done in his name.
During the play, documentary TV footage was shown as evidence that these absurd scenes are not only fiction but that they are based on true stories and have real victims. The choice of showing these images illustrates that the play did not have the primary purpose of conveying artistic pleasure to the audience, but to raise awareness of a social aspects that are still not known to a part of the public. Even though this documentary footage was intended to enrich the play, the information was shown without an English translation when most of the audience was international.
Although Death Hour set out to present the stories of political prisoners in Albania and Kosovo, almost all the scenes are related to totalitarianism in Albania, except for the scene in Dubrava prison. That scene itself is good, but since it is the only one outside the historical and geographical context of all other scenes in the play, it confuses the audience by changing the time and place without providing sufficient explanation.
The only country where God no longer exists
The last scene showing the tragic death of Efta, the only female victim among the play's characters, whose story connects the scenes, touches on the relationship of communist Albania with religion. Albania was declared an atheist country in 1967, banning all forms of religious practice, destroying cult objects, erasing religious texts, and persecuting the clergy. Efta, portrayed by Albulena Kryeziu, is also forbidden from making her last prayer before she dies, her end is even more tragic only because the guards saw her praying. The religious element in these scenes and the inhumane torture that led to Efta’s death seem to have been inspired by the story of the only female martyr of the Catholic Church in Albania, Marie Tuçi.
Some victims are condemned because they doubt, some because they dream, and some others because they still believe. In a country where evil prevails and the Great Leader has been transformed into the New God, the victims are not even allowed to believe, and by forbidding them to believe, they are also prevented from hoping that justice will ever be done for them.
Produced by Bokshi Theatre Company & Artpolis//Written by: Ulpianë Maloku & Agnesa Mehanolli // Directed by: Ilir Bokshi // With: Albulena KryeziuBokshi, Kushtrim Sheremeti, Adrian Morina, Arben Derhemi // Costumes: Vesa Kraja // Set design: Bekim Korça // Composer: Memli Kelmendi // Lights: Skënder Latif