THEATRE: From Yugoslavia with love and bullets

Opus Primum: A Story of War Gulbenkian Studio, Newcastle (touring)
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The Independent Culture
The eternal propaganda skirmishes in the former Yugoslavia reinforce the theory that truth is the first casualty of war. The core strength of this production by the Bosnian / Spanish company, Theatre of Resistance, is that it has no propaganda points to score, no partisan political message to deliver.

Set amid today's European killing fields, it is a latter-day Romeo and Juliet, in which a soldier falls in love with a young girl working in a basket factory. When her friend is brutally raped by his comrades - in a scene that takes place offstage but that is heart-rendingly delivered via the victim's screams and her subsequent bloody reappearance - the soldier turns on them and subsequently deserts.

His love for the young girl is returned, and as a result she is branded a collaborator and is publicly humiliated by her resentful community.

The stark, black peasant costumes, if not the basket factory where the action takes place, recall The House of Bernarda Alba - but this is a human rather than a political tragedy, and the contemporary context lends extra poignancy to a tale of love and bullets that is far more searing than most productions of the play's Shakespearian forebear.

A largely physical piece of theatre, it relies on precious little dialogue. But the play's cry of anguish born of brutality is unmistakable, and offers a new perspective to audiences whose acquaintance with the war tends to be sustained by sanitised newsreel footage. This is highly emotive theatre, and it is to the director, Hadi Kurich's credit that he has engaged his head as much as his heart.

The exiled director of Sarajevo's National Drama Centre, Kurich set up Theatre of Resistance in Spain. His wife, Ana, and his mother, Mima (a multi-award-winning actress in the former Yugoslavia) play alongside the largely Spanish cast.

Each individual performance is impressive, but it is the ensemble playing that takes your breath away. The stylised death scene of the soldier near the end - balletic and hypnotic - gives way to a collective cry of distress from the entire company, one which scores a direct hit on the pit of the stomach.

n At Manchester Dance House to 10 May (0161-237 9753), then York, Ormskirk, Bradford and Bury (details 01642 611625)

David Isaacs

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