Vesna Tominac Matacic’s adaptation of the works of Croatian poet Vesna Parun is an impassioned and beautiful spectacle that somehow still manages to feel lacking in substance. At first the performance fills the audience with a sense of grand promise, but sends them away wondering slightly what happened to fill the hour.
I was left feeling a little drained – less because of the show’s emotive power than its means of communicating
Weaving together extracts from her autobiographical and poetic works, the monologues tell of episodes from Parun’s life in a sinuous exploration of love, loss and the power of language. The words are spoken by Tominac Matacic or boomed through an echoey recording, with the English translations projected on the curtain behind her. This formal split offers an interesting reflection on the subject matter, effective especially in the section during which Tominac Matacic reels off a litany of words. While she over-enunciates and revels in their aural and physical effects, the audience can only read the clinical written list - “colic, conked sores, dropsy”.
Unfortunately this quickly becomes more of a hindrance than a boon. The subtitles not only distance the audience and stop us from connecting fully with the actress onstage, but they also change so quickly that it is impossible to simultaneously read them and engage with the words and actions of Tominac Matacic. Keeping abreast with the language takes so much concentration that it is easy to lose track of the what’s been said, and I was left feeling a little drained – less because of the show’s emotive power than its means of communicating.
Staged in a magnificent church space with tiered wooden pews for the audience, the performance is accompanied by masterful lighting and melancholic piano chords, all combining to develop a richly sombre atmosphere. Yet once again, this initial potential goes rapidly downhill. The gloomy music and reverberating voice-overs quickly start to grate, feeling more tacky than poignant.
Tominac Matacic’s performance is earnest and fervid, much of the poetry beautiful and moving, especially the titular poem recited towards the show’s end. Yet one cannot help feeling, with the often inane choreography in mind, that the show does not convey the emotional depth that it thinks it does.