Barbara is an American judge working in Sarajevo, overseeing war crimes cases. Her husband Jeff is an artist who creates sound installations and is working on a commission to create a piece for the Charles Bridge in Prague. Their daughter Tanya is about to be married to her Irish fianc Seamus. But as Tanya and Seamus nervously approach their wedding day, Barbara and Jeffs marriage is tested.
Lightwork are a theatre company that specialise in producing multimedia pieces. Sarajevo Story uses the aftermath of the conflict in the Balkans as the backdrop to a tale of faltering communication in the face of technology.
Throughout the piece voices are toyed with and distorted, via voicemail and video-conferencing and the various other devices that allow people to stay constantly in touch. The production is quite technically intricate in this respect, with cameras positioned at various places around the stage, allowing faces to be projected on a long strip that runs across the back wall. This allows them to emphasise the time lags and vocal distortions and to illustrate that, even with so many methods to speak to one another now in existence, meaning can still be lost, words can be misconstrued, people still hear what they want to hear.
The piece also makes use of verbatim snippets from witness testimony in war crimes cases. These are presented with the ever present echo of the interpreter, the words filtered and diluted a theme the production returns to again and again. It also explicitly asks the question, via the character of Jeff and the sound project he is working on, of whether it can ever be right to use such material as the basis of a piece of art. Are such appropriations necessary as a way of remembering or are they simply a form of exploitation? A pertinent question seeing as this production itself makes use of just such material. But then it counterbalances this paradox by continually emphasising the importance of listening and understanding, both in relationships and on a greater human scale.
Ayse Tashrikans movement direction is also striking. There is much emphasis on traditional dance, both Balkan and Irish. As the witnesses recount what happened to them they rise from their seats and embark on a kind of slow, ritual dance, linking hands as they go. There is something noble and human in this.
However on more than one occasion it felt as if there was simply too much going on visually. The production didnt seem to trust its own stories, there was always something happening to distract, actors pretending to be statues or rolling in slow motion on the floor. Strands of the story that strike notes of interest, like the chatty, amiable Bosnian taxi driver whose sister was raped and who may have committed atrocities himself, are left frustratingly underdeveloped.
Sarajevo Story leaves the audience with much to mull over and often fizzes with ideas even if the way they are handled sometimes feels a little laboured. The five-man ensemble cast throw themselves into things but, for all their efforts, there remains something rather clinical in the production’s exploration of its various themes and it is difficult to truly connect with any of the characters.