Review of ‘Clark in Sarajevo’

In today’s ‘The West Australian’ newspaper, arts correspondent Robin Pascoe writes about WA Youth Theatre’s performance of ‘Clark in Sarajevo’ by Catherine Zimdahl. You can still catch the show at the Subiaco Arts Centre for the next four nights. Tonight is ‘Pay what you can night’ and Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s tickets are available through BOCS

Ticket sales link

The floor of the studio covered in flattened cardboard boxes signals designer Lea Klein’s vision of setting Clark in Sarajevo in a temporary chaos – a city in siege mode. As the audience enters, so too do the ensemble, making dazed and huddled shapes.

In the week following the arrest of accused Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, Clark in Sarajevo serves as a reminder of the ongoing consequences of that particular war. The play follows the initially romanticised pilgrimage for a young journalist from The West (yes, the local reference is noted) as he searches naively for answers and the adventure of war.
Clark Cant (yes, he does wear a Superman T-shirt) is initially played with a fish-out-of-water goofiness by Nick Pages-Oliver that matures into bewilderment and dark despair as he comes face-to-face with the destruction of the city, besieged people’s lives and the sometimes cynical efforts of UN peacekeepers, contract truckers and Red Cross workers.
The play takes us deeper into the lives and sad disintegration of locals through Anne-Marie Biagioni’s Lala and her family. Like Clark, the audience are confronted with senseless acts of brutality. Like Clark, we lose journalistic objectivity. As he observes, the play’s conundrum is neither black nor white.

Director Jenny Davis has wrought a thoughtful and sharply defined sense of the central character’s descent into barely comprehensible chaos and disorientation. The vocal and movement chorus work is particularly strong and moving. There is skilled integration of documentary video, music and reverberating sound that enhances the fast moving and often short scenes.

There is also a generally pleasing restraint from the shrillness of much youth theatre.

It is interesting that WA Youth Theatre Company celebrates its 21st year by staging WA-born Catherine Zimdahl’s challenging play.
In one sense the company is returning to some of it’s earliest themes, having begun with Beijing Spring, a play about the events in Tiananmen square.
The commitment and focus of the ensemble is strong. The production reminds me of the 1997 production of Pax Bosniensis by the Mostar Youth Theatre in Bosnia Herzgovinia, whose members lived through the siege that is the focus of this play.

This production is a powerful demonstration of the strengths brought to theatre by young people given voice and agency.

Robin Pascoe is a former chairman of the WA Youth Theatre Company.


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