This play is written by a Serbian author dealing with the games children (may) play in the debris of a war zone. The war zone can be that of the domestic house front between the sexes, between the generations, between the neighbours, next door or next city. It is the terrible tale of the Human Animal when placed in extremes of stress. The stress is always relative and always viable for those in the thick of it. My body. My bed. My bedroom. My house. My suburb. My city. My country. And it is the humanity of it. The mothers and the fathers the brothers and the sisters. The Family of it. This play is called FAMILY STORIES: BELGRADE. But it is just as applicable to any Family whether it be Belgrade or 201 Marilyn Street, North Ryde, Sydney, or Bankstown or the Indigenous family in the Alice, South Australia or even the family in B SHARP’S production of KILLER JOE. ( a play by Tracy Letts.)
Children watch and learn how to behave. They play imitative games to make sense of their world. If the world they live in and watch is full of patriarchal abuse, racism, violence, rape, murder and much else, then that is the game the children might play to make sense of what is happening about them. This learning may be the pattern on which these children may base their modes of behaviour as adults to be able to survive. The cycle of life repeats itself and the families history repeats those stories that began in our literary culture way back with the Greeks and the House of Tantalus. This, then could be called “FAMILY STORIES: SYDNEY”.
In 2008 how far have we progressed? The two Directors of this production Robert Kennedy and Bojana Novakovic have only two words in their program notes (NB Mr Sinclair): “WAKE UP!” Art and artists have been calling that out for as long as we have recorded history and literature. WAKE UP! WAKE UP!
The gentle and savage conceit of this play is that we have adults play children play adults. The games they play are domestic tasks like the making and eating of dinner. The discussion of politics. The struggle between the internal relations of the generations in the family, which may end, as in these children’s invention, with a bullet in the head for the parents, executed by their children. It may record the forced family separation as a result of economic hardship, the broken hearts that may ensue. The unbridled grief of bereaved family members and relatives at loss, every kind of loss. The stories are familiar and looked at, with the knowledge of adulthood (us, sitting safely,in the audience), are foreboding and weighted with grief for the human condition. And yet the writer, Srbljanovic gives us an irresistible satiric edge and so the opportunity to smile, even grin or laugh at the games. We recognise the games, we recognise the strategies employed by these innocent children to get what they want. Funny Games. Grotesquely humorous. Our hearts ache for little Nadezda (Phaedra Nicolaidis) so traumatised by the world about her that the only role that the other children can give her is that of a dog. The only one, that at the beginning of the play, she can take. She plays the family dog well. In Serbian, the name Nadezda can be translated as Hope. This proves to be the case, for Little Nadezda finds a vocabulary and grows into a being with a voice. A voice of her own.
Phaedra Nicolaidis is totally transporting in this truly magnificent performance. Even if one ignored the artistry and craftsmanship of this actress, her stamina is admirable enough. She glows with the focused energy of a committed story teller with all the humility of an empathetic human, bringing to life the world and tragedy and hopefully future, of this young war zone victim. Tanya Goldberg (Milena) gives a performance shot through with intelligence, a sense of style and humour. Richard Gyoerffy (Vojin), as the patriarchal figure understands the role but is not technically moderated vocally. It is sometimes hard to bear the sound that is too relentless, to be finally convinced of his intentions (One suffers physical pain.).
The Set design (Simone Romaniuk), that of a cubby house made of cardboard cartons is imaginative and amusing. The lighting (Verity Hampson) and sound design (Basil Hogios) are supportive to the vision of the production.
This play deserves careful attention. It is for adults. But especially adults that still have the aspirations and inspirations of their childhood selves and like little Nadezda, in the play, have hope for a better future. “Out of the mouths of babes” The History of the Ride Out Theatre Company demonstrates in their selection of material, that they produce with a shining integrity, that adds immeasurably to the moral construct of our theatre going in Sydney. It may not always add up to Box Office success but it certainly enhances our lives. For all of the intended objectives of The Kosky/Wright THE WOMEN OF TROY at the STC I found myself much more moved by the writing and production of FAMILY STORIES: BELGRADE. Out of this catastrophe this Serbian writer is not nihilistic but still has a belief in HOPE. Maybe having to live in the crucible of the war zone gives one the great gift of the valuing of life and the possibility of a better future.
This is a CO-OP production.