The glorious nature of international fringe festivals is the fact they become a melting pot of all cultures and faiths to share their work on a welcoming stage. The work of Lonesome Balkan is the only show from Serbia at Prague Fringe this year so I can only imagine that comes with a level of pressure beyond the standard “oh lord, I’m performing a show in a foreign country”. This pressure does not appear to have hindered the performances at all, in fact, it may have elevated them even further.
Meet Kosta, a Bruce Lee enthusiast, and his brother Vladimir: a devout Christian and chronic masturbator, both of whom are coming to terms with the loss of their father. The play takes the form of a dark comedy which follows the turbulent emotional fallout in the wake of their ordeals and overwhelmingly sinful lives.
This duo performs with expert precision and passion. They bring the audience in with laugh-out-loud moments of awkwardness and joy (as well as a truly magnificent masturbation sequence) before spiralling headfirst into dark, disturbing and deeply brilliant exploration of sin, religion, legacy, lost loves and truly heinous admissions of crime. This ultimately culminated in me leaving the venue simply concluding that this is some top tier theatre, and as many people as possible need to see it.
The physicality is dynamic, the set is simplistic in construction but deeply complex in metaphor and building the characters in the space they inhabit, the lighting is well done, and music helps assist with transitions as well as gives us further insight into these characters we learn to love, and even fear. The constant battle between religion and responsibility is hammered home to the audience by frequent rises in tension culminating in several physical altercations. Each one more emotive and high stakes than the last.
As previously mentioned, this is a Serbian production, the show therefore, is performed in Serbian with English surtitles above the stage. Unfortunately, as these are projected on the back wall rather than about the front of the stage, many long pieces of dialogue are missed as the projection disappears behind stage flats and the lighting rig above. Having said this, to reassure the non-Serbian-speakers amongst us the vast majority is visible from all angles and is likely due to the venue itself, rather than it being a part of regular production. Regardless the actors are always in control of the scenes that I occasionally caught myself not reading the surtitles at all as I was so engrossed in the raw emotion of the scenes, such is the power of these remarkable actors.
The narrative is so well written, it’s impossible to explain why without spoiling the plot but rest assured, the twists and turns are well worth the ticket price all by themselves. Every other element for me this production perfect encapsulates why festivals like this one are so important and exciting. I am thrilled to have been able to witness Lonesome Balkan.
Recommended Drink: Lonesome Balkan is a Serbian Rakija.
Performances of Lonesome Balkan have now concluded at Prague Fringe 2023.