Out of the most horrible events in history, there are always stories of exceptional bravery and humanity. Something almost beautiful arising from something so ugly. The siege of Sarajevo killed nearly 14,000 people, over a third of them civilians, and for everyone who wasn’t able to escape normal life rapidly became a distant memory.
The Tunnel is the story of one such group of people, trapped in the city and trying desperately to maintain some semblance of normality and in particular the story of Sarajevo University which continued its academic work as far as possible throughout the siege due to the tenacity and bravery of staff, students and public alike. Well, almost.
In a sense, it is all of those things but in another, it’s a story that could relate to many groups of people trying to make the best of a war-torn town/city. This particular production involves little in the way of specific characterisation or linear plot and instead works with a more fluid plotline.
Taking snippets of interaction between a large group of students trying to continue their conveniently drama-based studies and interspersing them with what I believe to be genuine letters from people within the Sarajevo siege to friends and family members.
The overall effect is one of more general foreboding and distress than a specific investment in the scenes and characters on display and for me, it went a bit too far on that vein leaving me less engaged as I hoped to be. I can understand that the cliché of an encouraging unflappable professor leading some unruly but good-hearted youngsters to success against the backdrop of a war-torn city doesn’t necessarily offer a realistic image or account of the true events but sadly, for me, without some of those traditional trappings the individual elements or The Tunnel became forgettable and lost in the overall piece.
That element of the content aside, the presentation itself was varied, well-structured to the space and very well thought out. We were treated to some very complex interactions and a lot of intricate changes that were all executed to the high quality that was the hallmark of the production overall. The harmonised vocal sections, in particular, were excellent and would have stood as such without the musical backing that was given on one occasion.
In addition to music the more dramatized scenes also included several dance sections (including Tap, an art form I’ve not seen performed live before) and some more surrealistic segues that took the form of sound effects mimicking shelling and a 15 second sequence of ‘duck and cover’ movements representing the amount of time it takes a sniper to reload. Far from providing a smooth transition, these felt to me like an effective representation of how quickly situations can change in war and the almost jarring effect worked well.
The Tunnel isn’t nice. It isn’t a neat 90-minute rise and fall wrap-up of a normal narrative structure. It’s a little unsettling and unexpected. It’s a series of snapshots of how war affects the lives of people with nothing to do with it and while it may not be the historic drama I was expecting, it’s nevertheless the stories of countless people who lived, and died, in the siege of Sarajevo. It’s a brave and bold piece performed very well, and I applaud everyone involved for bringing the voices of those who suffered so much to us all.
Review by Damien Russell
“The Tunnel” is a 90-minute exploration – with music – of the importance of art during times of war and the risks artists will take to tell their stories. It is told through memories and interviews conducted with survivors of the Siege of Sarajevo. During the Siege, with the university closed due to bomb threats and snipers, a group of students and their professor broke back on to the campus in order to study and rehearse, thus allowing a group of final year actors to complete their training and graduate. Despite the danger, they were also able to find an audience who were willing to risk their lives in order to attend the performances.
The piece has been devised and performed by our MA Music Theatre students and will play here at Central next week, 12 – 14 February. If one of your reviewers is interested in attending, I’d be very pleased to put aside a pair of complimentary tickets and drinks vouchers for them. Please do let me know if this is possible; we would love to bring attention to this important piece of work – based on a truly incredible collection of real-life testimonies.
Director Maja Milatovic-Ovadia
Musical Director Paul Barker
Set Designer Colin Mayes
Choreographer Caroline Pope
Lighting Designer Jai Morjaria
Vocal Coach Maria Huesca
Accent Coach Deborah Garvey
Stage Manager Judith Volk
Deputy Manager Josh York
Production Manager Andy Shewan
Costume Designers Carmel Hall, Hannah McMahon Major
Body Conditioning Arthur Kyeyune
Devised and performed by MA Music Theatre students
Assistant Director Matt Powell
Assistant to the Director Reka Pavel
Assistant to the Choreographer Jessica Foong