Horrors of warfare viscerally enacted on stage

Horrors of warfare viscerally enacted on stage

SHOW: CHEERS TO SARAJEVO
CAST: AIMEE GOLDSMITH, DUANE BEHRENS, CHRIS VAN RENSBURG, YIORGO SOTOROPOLIS, JULIAN KRUGER
DIRECTOR: LIDIJA MARELIC
VENUE: AUTO & GENERAL THEATRE ON THE SQUARE, NELSON MANDELA SQUARE, SANDTON UNTIL OCTOBER 8.
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

It’s always pleasing to hear new voices on the theatrical scene and to observe what they have to offer in terms of dramatic input.
‘Cheers to Sarajevo’ is written by Johannesburg playwright and actress Aimee Goldsmith and Lidija Marelic, a Croatian, whom Goldsmith met while they were studying at Wits University.
Goldsmith says she has always wanted to tell this story, ever since she visited the former Yugoslavia as a 14-year-old and encountered the reality of war, not only physically, but also psychologically. The theme of this lengthy, episodic one act play is the power of women to maintain love and hope in the face of war.
What occurs during the narrative is truly sickening: the rape of women, and the murder and mayhem created by the Serbian troops in the Balkans. It was an ugly side to this particular war, aspects which are graphically depicted in the play.

We are introduced to Peter (Chris van Rensburg), a young photojournalist from Johannesburg, who travels to Bosnia to cover the conflict. He gets separated from his team and, on his way through Sarajevo, takes a picture of Mirela (Goldsmith) and Aleksander (Duane Behrens). Theirs is a forbidden love – she being Bosniak Muslim, him an Orthodox Serb. Their relationship is played out against the backdrop of growing unrest between different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia. Peter uses the image as collateral to have Mirela guide him back to his team. But before they can leave, the Siege of Sarajevo begins. The characters find themselves in the middle of a civil war and in a fight for survival, humanity and courage under fire.

‘Cheers to Sarajevo’ may seem a feasible proposition on paper, but it falls far short in executing these ideas on stage. The play suffers from a lack of pace, implausible dialogue and underwritten characters. It’s often muddled plotting hinders its accessibility to an audience who may find it difficult to become involved with the plight of these cardboard characters. To add insult to injury, Serbian officers argue amongst themselves in their own language.

Overall, the play is devoid of tension and there are characters that wander in and out of the story without making any tangible impact.
Aimee Goldberg’s key character of Mirela lacks light and shade and is never quite convincing. Her thick accent renders some of the dialogue unintelligible. The other members, Duane Behrens, Chris van Rensburg, Yiorgo Sotoropolis and Julian Kruger, come across as ciphers in the overall scheme of things and are unable to engage on an emotional level.

The set, made up of cardboard arranged in different forms to represent damaged buildings, is effective and there is a moment involving the killing of children that strikes a chord.
‘Cheers to Sarejevo’ must be applauded for its attempt to depict an aspect of history, but it lacks depth and emotional heft to leave an effective impression.

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