When I was at school, Croatia was a distant name vaguely synonymous with a horrendous conflict that raged horribly on the evening news. Now, not very many years on, it’s famous as a beach holiday hotspot. It can be hard to reconcile the two: but this subtle epic from Zagreb-born Tena Štivičić goes some way to shed light on Croatia’s difficult relationship with its own past.
Substantially set in 1945 and 2011, with a more problematic portion in 1990, ‘3 Winters’ is about a single family trying to reconcile itself with its own history and that of its motherland. In the 1945 thread, Rose and Alexander King are a married couple who found themselves on different sides in World War II: she a Communist partisan, he a conscripted soldier for the fascist government. Now the conflict is over, a new struggle begins as the reunited couple try to negotiate both each other and newly-formed Yugoslavia. Loyal partisan Rose is allowed to choose a house confiscated from the aristocracy to live in with her family and others – symbolically, she plumps for the grand pile where her mother worked as a servant.
In 2011, Rose’s gorgeous granddaughter Lucia (Sophie Rundle) is on the cusp on getting married to a shady gangster-type who insists on booting out the other families and returning the house to private ownership, ending the Communist dream. Inevitably the scars of the 1990s war – which are really also the scars of 1945 – remain horribly present.
It is canny of Štivičić to make this a domestic drama, set in a single house: the weight of war hangs so heavily on her characters – and the house itself is surely a character – that she doesn’t need to show the events themselves, which loom invisibly over the eaves of Tim Hatley’s handsome set. What she does really well is write great characters – specifically female characters – who wrestle with pain in erratic, spiky, human fashion, from taciturn Rose through to her granddaughter Alisa (Jodie McNee), who is both tremendously self-assured and desperately confused about her identity. Croatia is a pretty messed up place, suggests Štivičić, though her basic faith in humanity stops things getting too dour.
Though Howard Davies’s production is lucid and well-paced, the interlocking structure doesn’t quite work, mostly because the 1990 section feels like an undernourished bridging plot that doesn’t earn its place. Still, this is a moving, illuminating and finely-acted play that’s more evidence of the NT’s increasingly outward-looking programming.