War cannot break Love…
By Jaco du Plessis
In a world where war and violence have become a daily feature, from the news to our social media, one has to ask if we really need to take this subject matter to the stage. My answer is a definite YES! Yes, because of a show like Cheers to Sarajevo, co-written by Aimee Mica Goldsmith and Lidija Marelic, currently showing at the Alexander Bar on Strand Street.
Walking into the small theatre space the audience is met with the debris of what could possibly have been a modest apartment, graffiti line the walls and the furniture is sparse. The show hasn’t even started yet and already there is an uneasiness in the air. The lights dim and we meet three friends; a Bosnian women, Mirela, played by actress Goldsmith, her Serbian boyfriend, Aleksander, acted out by Alistair Moulten Black and Lamar Bonhamme portraying the role of Slobo. The three are unnervingly cheerful in this first scene, something that won’t last very long.
The three friends go through all the pain and suffering that comes with war – food shortages, dodging bullets and bombs, but all the while are trying to be strong when the greatest challenge of this ethnic war threatens to pull their friendship apart. One thing is clear during the first few minutes of the show, is the love between Mirela and Aleksander. This love that was forged on the streets of Sarajevo from a young age has managed to keep them alive during this difficult time and keep them hopeful of a future together, a future that becomes threatened by a South African photo journalist, Peter, played by Stephen Jubber. The South African is in Sarajevo to document the war, and soon starts to develop feelings toward Mirela.
What follows isn’t an easy viewing as the war and its atrocities are brought centre stage, the characters change and a once strong Mirela falls victim to her friend Slobo’s cruel hands, the ambitious Aleksander becomes a broken soldier and the South African looking to make his mark as a photojournalist tries to become the one person to save Mirela.
The dark mood in the air is enhanced under direction of Ashleigh Harvey, assisted by Sven-Eric Muller. The clever use of documentary audio tracks entrap you into the war setting, you become increasingly anxious in your chair as the sound of constant machine gun clatter and the exploding bombs heighten your senses. The direction makes you go from angry at the circumstances, to sad and emotional as Mirela breaks down during one of the final scenes. Goldsmith delivers a heartfelt performance, you connect with her emotions, her frustrations and her sheer determination to not let go of what she believes in; the country she calls home and the people she loves. Her performance is one that will sit with you for some time after the production has ended.
Another stand out performance is Lamar’s portrayal of Slobo, which takes you on a riveting transformation journey. The once cheerful man we meet in the first few minutes, gets replaced with a dark tormented soldier. Lamar moulds the character to an almost mannequin-like exterior devoid of all emotion, with intense violent and brutal outbursts breaking through at times. I was pleased to see such diversity in his stage presence.
The lights darken and for a moment the audience is glued to their seats, it takes a moment to realise that the show is over, tears are brushed from a cheek to my left and I’m at a loss for words. A standing ovation follows and people leave the theatre. Confused and emotional, angry and frustrated, I am left with questions. Why did this war happen? How did it end? How many people lost the love of their lives? This was not an easy show to watch, firstly because I didn’t know much about the Yugoslavian war, I was too young to remember when it all took place. Secondly, watching this play is for the theatrical art lover, because this show doesn’t sugar coat the subject of war, but once you start processing it all you also come to the realisation that beneath the turmoil and the anguish there lies a story of love and compassion, and the fight to stand up for what is right and to say this is who I am and I will not allow my circumstances get the better of me.
This is a show you have to go and see, it delivers performances that are guttural, ones you can somehow relate to and it shows you how through all the struggles that we face in life, we do not need to give up on what we believe in. This show transcends the theatre space and brings this reality to us in a way that we can connect with.
Cheers to Sarajevo runs from 26 June – 8 July at the Alexander bar. Tickets cost R80 if booked from their website, and R120 at the door.