Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 10 July, 2001

Are we (which is a speciously dignified way of asking, am I) falling prey to a theatrical equivalent of "compassion fatigue"? Even a few years ago, eastern European dramatic comments upon the collapse of communism or the Balkan wars were treated with a certain sanctity, as if the respect due to the practitioners' experience of their subject matter extended likewise to the forms of theatre they made about it. Have we run out of patience with such work, after such a short time? Or is it simply that, in the case in point, the productions shown in the Gate Theatre's third "East Goes West" season have been rather undistinguished?

Dimitar Nedkov's Anglo-Bulgarian version of Heiner Müller's The Battle was adventurous but patchy (including one scene of heated debate between two brothers staged entirely as a monologue in Bulgarian). The End Of The 20th Century, from Serbia's second city of Novi Sad, was a brief, slight piece which thought that identifying themes was the same as engaging with them. And now the final presentation, Paradise Tomorrow, created by Albanian artists from Macedonia and Kosovo as well as Albania itself, tells us that war is hell and that the major horror is living in fear at every moment, but feels oddly slight considering that these are the very areas in which ethnic violence is currently most active.

Five people share a cellar in Pristina at various times: the viewpoint character, a writer, his family (who turn out to be ghosts, killed early in the war), and a soldier who deals with his own terror and impotence by taking it out on whom he can. Krste S. Jidrov's set design consists principally of a large cupboard with half-doors, into and out of which characters appear and vanish in various attitudes, and a floorcloth which in the final moments is inflated to billow around the soldier in a visually impressive if symbolically vague coup. Dritëro Kasapi's direction is precise and thoughtful, but seems rather semi-detached: as far as one can tell, following the Albanian-language proceedings from a printed synopsis, the performances seldom mesh with the imagery onstage to convey the horrors feelingly. Perhaps the company are still too close to these experiences to be able to give themselves over to fully re-enacting them, but the end result is that at the end of the 55-minute piece one is left with a rather arid intellectual respect but no visceral connection.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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