7 Days 10 Years ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

7 Days 10 Years

7 Days 10 Years by Louis Milutinovic, directed by Chris Bendall, design ed by Peter Corrigan, music and sound Philip McLeod. With Anastasia Malinoff, Laura Lattuada, Sergio Tell, Ernie Gray, Steve Mouzakis, Odette Joannides, Larissa Gallagher, Simon Kingsley Hall. Theatre@risk at Theatreworks, until November 21.

Flaubert said, in relation to novels, that "God is in the details". And equally, one might say that in speaking about a society in disastrous flux, it's the details - the "opaque areas" rather than what are noted in conventional histories as significant events - that are most telling. They are certainly most telling in theatre, for human interaction is the life-blood of drama. And in 7 Days 10 Years, Louis Milutinovic reveals some of the realities of the Balkans wars in the 1990s by following the fortunes of a single family over the decade before the NATO bombing of Serbia.

The Balkan conflict was, for many people in the West, an obscure war of bloody ethnic hatred in a little-known place. By focusing on intimate detail, Louis Milutinovic's lucid narrative offers another view than the lens of opaque ethnic hatred through which such conflicts are usually reported. It makes what happened in Serbia at once more legible and more alarming: after all, blind self-interest, apathy, corruption and fear-driven nationalism are the currency of our times.

In its structure and approach, this play owes a debt to Bertolt Brecht's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, in which Brecht adopted small-scale, naturalistic forms to demonstrate how fascism impacts on the most ordinary of interactions. Fear and Misery in the Third Reich is a frightening parable which shows how easily extraordinary circumstances became normal, the incremental but deadly adjustments that people make in order to negotiate daily life under a Fascist regime.

Similarly, Milutinovic largely ignores the ethnic arguments - for example, the Serbian narrative of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 - to concentrate on quotidian detail. The rise of Milosevic and Serbian nationalism and the wars with Bosnia and Kosovo are referred to obliquely: their effects are visible in the crippling of a young soldier, the heroin addiction of his sister, the impoverishment of the middle class, the marginalisation and final silencing of dissent, and the banal but terrifying thuggery of a violent kleptocracy.

The play moves swiftly through seven toughly-written scenes, each titled, in another nod to Brecht, by the date of the events. They chart the gradual disenfranchisement of the family; the activist mother Svetlana (Anastasia Malinoff) loses her job as a teacher and is forced to sell cigarettes on the black market; the son Ivan (Steve Mouzakis) is left crippled by the war, and his girlfriend Vesna (Odette Joannides) leaves for a job in Italy and becomes a prostitute. Even Svetlana's brother Branko (Sergio Tell), a small town official, loses everything he has gained through his petty corruption. The play ends with the arrival of the US war planes, which are greeted by the dissenters as a liberation after years of intimidation under Milosevic. But it is ironically clear in the final moments that this final liberation is only another betrayal.

What also becomes clear is that those who lose most are the small people, the petit-bourgeoisie who ignored the larger picture in favour of their narrow self-interest. The middle-class characters who dissent and protest the growing fascism in their community, though scarred in obvious ways, manage to retain their self-respect; those who aggressively grab power and cash, like the captain who is building himself a new house out of war-profiteering, or the amoral folk singer/celebrity Shana (Larissa Gallagher) who switches to whatever bandwagon happens to be winning, also survive. In the bleakly riven society Milutinovic describes, the powerless who assent to fascistic authority with an eye to their own survival emerge as the most lost.

Chris Bendall's production is a good, honest presentation of the play with a high component of sheer entertainment. It features terrific singing, with a soundtrack by Philip McLeod of some bizarre Eurotrash folk music, in itself a sardonic comment on nationalistic propaganda. The scenes move swiftly and with great energy, capably managing the complex emotional twists of the writing, from comedy to violent tragedy, with no sense of false steps.

The production features an excellent set by Peter Corrigan: three trestles painted red which can be rearranged flexibly and quickly into a series of playing spaces on different levels. The back half of the Theatreworks stage is cut off by a huge black curtain, from which stage hands wearing pig masks - sinister images of the growing anonymous bestiality of society - emerge to rearrange the space. The design and lighting permit a theatrical spareness which focuses on an ensemble of excellent performances: in particular Laura Lattuada as Mila, the flaky but irrepressible aunt; Sergio Tell as Branko, the corrupt town official who betrays his activist sister to the authorities; and Simon Kingsley Hall as Bane, the drug-dealing son who, despite escaping national service, ends up as an emotional cripple.

This is far from didactic theatre, but it is a powerful political work. Milutinovic exposes, without a trace of sentiment but with a great deal of compassion for all the characters he portrays, the predatory nature of a society in which relationships are compromised and destroyed by mutual mistrust and fear. It's a timely reminder of Primo Levi's warning that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Was this play ever performed anywhere else or published?