Principal Parts

Wed 3rd – Tue 30th August 2011


Madeleine Morley

at 09:51 on 21st Aug 2011



Guaranteed to set your head spinning, in a good way, Principle Parts is a play within a play, about a play, within a play, about players, playing out their roles, as players, playing characters in the 'Black Hand', where they live out their inevitable fate that means that they will assassinate Franz Ferdinand and become one of the principles parts in the beginning of World War I. A good subject, and even if you know it well, they give it new layers of meaning with their resourceful approach. The drama plays with one of the oldest and most complex philosophies in theatre, the idea that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" - a difficult idea to convey convincingly, but done here fantastically well, so that you are engaged and intrigued rather than irritated and confused. The codes are well worth cracking.

Alice Allemano plays the sexy, shrewd sandwich girl Ana, whose love affair with the inhibited Princip (or rather, in code, "five", or rather in real life "Ivan Juritz", if that actually is his real name) supplies the trigger for the volatile and significant events. Both actors are elegant and convincing, and the forceful, playful Ana and the reserved, concerned Princip, couple together beautifully for the explosive climax. Harry Griffiths is as the code of the play has it is quite a "sandwich" and Nick Stafford plays a sinister, slimy Ned (or "two”) with much vigor and knowing ease. In fact, the cast are so impressively convincing inside the many shifting parts of the play that you wonder if they aren't just playing the parts of actors in order to cover something else up - they're up to something, for real, and using the play to disguise their true nature.

Principle Parts is also a timely history lesson. In the current treacherous international political climate, the play reminds you of the tremendous power of a few to make an influential and catastrophic difference to world events. But are we in control of our actions, or controlled by other forces - is someone writing our fate? The twisted turmoil created by the combination of intense, personal romance and the making of petrol bombs amongst a small group of student comrades evocatively suggests a tense and vulnerable Europe on the cusp of war. The soundtrack provided by a sullen, doomed band of soldiers beautifully combines with the action to generate an appropriate sense of hopelessness and inevitability. The world suddenly changes - politically and personally - and things are never the same again. This is an exciting, ultimately heartbreaking play, within a play, and so on, that has something to say, about love, war and destiny, and finds provocative and contemporary ways to say it.


Tanjil Rashid

at 11:47 on 21st Aug 2011



Churchill famously liked to think of Eastern Europe as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Strip Theatre’s latest production “Principal Parts”, set in that most enigmatic of Eastern Europe’s cities, Sarajevo, is a tragedy wrapped in a farce inside a world music concert. The story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination has been rehearsed in every history classroom, but it takes playwright Henry David’s Stoppard-esque dramatic disposition to conjure out of history a story that enchanted the audience one and all.

The play itself is framed as Professor Mehmed Basic’s theatrical attempt to understand the stories behind his and his collaborators’ erstwhile participation in the violent conspiracy that triggered a world war. But his play is about a motley crew of lovelorn thespians-cum-political-radicals rehearsing a play about the assassination. Thrown in to this mystifyingly meta mix is a love quadrilateral on which depends – one likes to think – the fate of the world; love and politics more fatefully intertwined than in Doctor Zhivago, but with more laughs.

At least I think it might be a love quadrilateral. Perhaps you should count for yourself (although a two-dimensional shape hardly does it justice; perhaps a dodecahedron?). The eponymous Princip, whose strange combination of naïveté and wisdom Ivan Juritz captures so well, is enamoured of Alice Allemano’s sensuously seductive waitress Ana, whom lead conspirator Dano Ilic would like to marry; their co-conspirator Vaso rather fancies Ana too but is insanely infatuated by Dano’s insane mother, Nina, a schoolteacher in the habit of seducing her pupils, which once included Basic, who happens also to be the object of Ned, the most ardent Serbian nationalist of them all, a prickly and misogynistic homosexual whose sinewy silliness Nick Stafford amusingly ensnares.

The Arthur Schnitzler-style merry-go-round of erotic collusions is not the only way David catches the Austro-Hungarian fin-de-siècle, neither his delightfully and disarmingly bawdy jokes; Bosnia’s unique heritage of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian worlds collide in Schiller’s coffeehouse (itself a perfect symbol of both), where patrons’ favourites include the wiener schnitzel as well as baklava, accompanied by Beth Hipwell’s beguiling Balkan original score, whose continental cacophony is grounded by an oriental tabla.

But behind all the entertainment lies a serious kernel smuggled in amid all the wit and wordplay; the conspirators’ bumbling, fumbling incompetence masks the evil face of nationalisms past (and present), whose utopian intentions cause, as Ana bears witness, untold damage. Is this a comic answer to the question – whether political violence is ever justified – posed by Camus in his play Les Justes? Princip eventually answers no, and prioritises love over principle, but in an unexpected twist this counts for nothing. Princip and Ana’s first kiss is oddly touching, but not for too long, and the comic merry-go-round starts spinning again, briefly, until it unravels to a satisfying stop, some time in 1934, not too far from another tragedy.

Marx famously asserted in the Eighteenth Brumaire that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce; Henry David’s meta-theatrical triumph does both in one go.


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