‘Soul of the city’: Mostar’s beloved bridge conjures up story of romance and battle | Theatre

The bridge in the course of Mostar is the non secular and social coronary heart of town. It’s the place individuals meet and gossip, snatch a primary kiss or dive into the waters of the river under. The Bosnian metropolis takes its title from the arched Ottoman-era bridge and it turned a horrible image for the shattering of Yugoslavia when it was destroyed by Croat paramilitaries in 1993, although it has since been rebuilt.

“It’s the soul of the city,” says Igor Memic, whose play Previous Bridge, which gained the Papatango prize for brand spanking new writing final 12 months, is now in rehearsals on the Bush theatre in London. Memic is from Mostar himself. His household got here to the UK in 1992, “simply 10 days earlier than issues popped off”. He doesn’t consider himself as a Bosnian playwright. Immigrant id is extra advanced than that and his mom “left it as much as me to find who I used to be and who we had been”.

Writing Previous Bridge has fashioned a part of that course of. It’s a sprawling reminiscence play about younger individuals having their world upended by a battle by which they’d no say. They don’t see the battle coming. They’re too busy residing their lives, being youngsters.

‘I wished to current the nation I come from in a method that I perceive’ … Igor Memic.

“I at all times wished to current the nation that I come from, in the best way that I perceive,” says Memic. “Lovely and various and joyous and wealthy. After I see depictions of the place I come from in different tales, I don’t essentially recognise it.” Mostar was a various metropolis of Bosnian Muslims, Croats, Serbs, residing alongside each other. “On one nook there’s the scent of Turkish espresso, on one other you’re in Austro Hungary. There are Venetian influences, Twentieth-century communist influences. All this merging of cultures. I’ve by no means seen that wherever else on this planet I’ve been.”

The bridge “held the entire place collectively” and naturally performs an enormous half within the play – virtually as a personality in itself. What’s deliberately left absent is any reference to the politics, to the lads in energy who steered Yugoslavia on to the rocks. “You shouldn’t have to learn a historical past e book or an encyclopedia to observe the play,” Memic says. He didn’t write it to coach individuals, he wrote it for himself. “It’s a love story,” he says. “If somebody is watching this play who has endured that battle, or one other battle, they may have one expertise and if somebody has no concept what occurred, they may have a special engagement with it.”

Selma Dimitrijevic
‘It captures the second when your life is disrupted’ … Selma Dimitrijevic. {Photograph}: Chris Bishop

The play is being directed by Selma Dimitrijevic, who was born in Zagreb and has lived within the UK since she was 26. Whereas she thinks the play’s characters and attitudes will probably be acquainted to individuals from the area – “despite the fact that they’re talking English, they really feel Bosnian” – there’s a universality to it. “It’s additionally a metaphor,” she says. “That’s what’s actually thrilling. It captures the second when your life is disrupted and despatched in a special route. It could possibly be a tsunami, 9/11, it could possibly be Covid.”

Initially they thought of casting actors from the previous Yugoslav diaspora and noticed various performers from these nations, however that course of opened up questions of its personal. Do you solely forged Bosnian performers? Or from a wider japanese European pool? In the long run they determined to stick to Memic’s unique stage route and forged the play in a method that mirrored the make-up of town by which it was staged. The forged consists of Saffron Coomber – from Tracy Beaker Returns – and Dino Kelly, the one forged member with a Bosnian connection.

Whereas the occasions of the Yugoslav wars influenced British drama, most notably Sarah Kane’s Blasted, there have been notably few performs concerning the topic by individuals from the nations of the previous Yugoslavia on British phases, the exception being Croatian playwright Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, staged by the Nationwide Theatre in 2014. I ask Memic whether or not he felt a way of stress when deciding to sort out this topic. “I felt most liberated as a author after I determined to cease listening to the voices I’d conjured up, to silence them and say that is simply me and the web page. Let’s see what occurs.”

When it was introduced that Previous Bridge had gained the Papatango prize in July 2020, it was nonetheless comparatively early within the pandemic. It’s taken a while to convey it to the stage, however even with the theatre business in disarray, Papatango caught with him, he tells me, utilizing the time to develop the play. Now over a 12 months on, he lastly has the prospect to take a seat in on rehearsals. “I didn’t want an Oyster card, I might have flown right here, I had a lot vitality in me,” he laughs.

Although they’re nonetheless within the early phases of the rehearsal course of, Dimitrijevic wonders how the pandemic would possibly have an effect on the best way audiences relate to the play. In any case, she says, “we’ve all lived by a time when the world stopped spinning.” Memic nods. That’s what the play’s about, the concept that “you by no means assume it’s going to occur to you, you by no means assume it’s going to occur right here … after which it occurs.”

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